Many consider Thanksgiving to represent a slice of Americana and the final part of American life.
The holiday dates back more than 200 years. It is meant to celebrate events that occurred long before colonialism. However, many have turned it into a contentious issue about colonialism’s legacy.
Thanksgiving is celebrated all over the US with many traditions and customs, including those for American Jews.
How did Thanksgiving come to be? When did people start celebrating it?
Many people date Thanksgiving practices back to the traditions of Spanish and French colonists in 1500s Spain. These services were meant to celebrate harvests and give thanks. They continued well into the 1600s when permanent British settlers arrived in Virginia.
Many believe that the first Thanksgiving was held in 1619, Virginia. This was when several British colonists hosted a Thanksgiving celebration when they arrived.
The most widely attributed Thanksgiving was actually in 1621, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Pilgrims were a group of separatist Puritans who settled in this area. They suffered from a severe winter.
The impact of this event on our modern-day Thanksgiving is still a matter of debate. Proper accounts had been primarily forgotten up until the 19th Century.
To commemorate the American victory at Saratoga, Thanksgiving was also observed by the Continental Congress in 1777 and George Washington in December of the same year.
The first Thanksgiving day that the US government had established was October 3, 1789, when then-president Washington declared another day. While other Thanksgiving days were established in subsequent years, they didn’t have a fixed date or a regularity. Thomas Jefferson didn’t have one day of Thanksgiving during his entire presidency.
During the US Civil War, Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as an annual holiday in 1863. It has been observed every year on the 4th Thursday of November.
What are some common Thanksgiving traditions?
The name of Thanksgiving reflects the tradition of Thanksgiving, emphasizing being thankful. Today, the focus is not on harvest but on charity. The Salvation Army and other organizations organize special meals.
Food is the most essential and iconic part of Thanksgiving. Families from all over the country gather together to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. These meals include stuffing, squash, sweet potatoes, turkey, stuffing, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and cranberry syrup, all foods native to America.
The pumpkin is another staple. However, this one has a different history. Many believe that it became popular during the Civil War because of its symbolism of abolitionism. Because pumpkins were grown on small farms and not on large plantations, they are more representative of freedom than slavery.
These meals are a staple of American life and allow extended families to come together.
Turkeys are also a symbol of the holiday. Tradition has it that the US President would pardon a turkey to save them from being killed. This would allow them to be served dinner.
The holiday has become a significant part of American football history, which has made sports a significant part of it. Although it has been held every year on Monday or Sunday night, the Thanksgiving game was always played – except during World War II.
But, in recent times, a significant aspect of Thanksgiving is Commercialism.
This is usually manifested in two forms: Black Friday or the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade.
There are a few parades that take place in cities across the country. The oldest is in Philadelphia.
In Manhattan, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is perhaps the most well-known. This annual parade is billed as the biggest globally. It features large floats, marching bands, and balloons of famous figures and characters from popular culture. Although the list is constantly changing, the end is almost always the same: The Santa Claus float signals the start of the Christmas season.
The day following Thanksgiving, Black Friday is the most significant in US retail. You will find huge discounts and special deals, especially in the early morning. This holiday is significant because it kicks off the holiday season. Most retailers close on Thanksgiving.
Large crowds gather in stores before opening to ensure that they have access to these limited-time deals.
This has been extended over time to Cyber Monday, which offers huge discounts on online shopping.
Why is Thanksgiving controversial.
It may also be about gratitude in principle. Many consider it to be a recognition of the colonial role in North America and the displacement and oppression that Native Americans have suffered.
Americans have a whitewashed and idealized view of the first Thanksgiving. It was seen as a sign that peace and friendship existed between Pilgrims and Native Americans. They forget how European colonization caused massive injustice and death for Native Americans.
Some people criticize the perceived religious aspects of Christmas, the overly capitalistic tendencies of retailers to kick off the Christmas season, and subsequently, be a reason that some people put up Christmas decorations early.
Are there other countries that celebrate Thanksgiving?
Yes. But not exactly in the same manner.
Many cultures and countries have their holidays for giving thanks. Only a few countries have Thanksgiving in the same way as the US.
These are Canada, Grenada, and Liberia.
Canada’s Thanksgiving is rich in tradition and history. It was observed on October 12. This day marks the American tradition of Columbus Day.
Grenada’s Thanksgiving celebrates a more recent event. It takes place every October 25, marking the anniversary of the 1983 US-led invasion.
Liberia’s Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday in November. It’s rooted in Liberia’s history and close relationship with the US. Formerly enslaved persons founded the country. However, it is primarily celebrated by descendants of formerly enslaved persons, who form a population within Liberia known as Americo-Liberians, and not the other diverse West African ethnicities.
Thanksgiving in Judaism?
Thanksgiving is officially a secular holiday despite its close association with God and thankfulness. Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, and Judaism does not prohibit it from being celebrated.
This holiday is celebrated in Judaism with specific traditions.
This is particularly true for Shareith Israel in Manhattan, the oldest Jewish congregation in North America.
The Sephardi Jewish community of New York dates back to 1654, when the first Jews arrived.
Gershom Mendes, Seixass, was the leader of this congregation in 1789. He preached a sermon on Thanksgiving after Washington’s announcement. His sermon addressed the religious significance of being thankful in government and the spiritual importance of justice when supporting elected representatives.
This was also interpreted as a call to American Jewry for political participation – something Jews couldn’t do anywhere else – and parallels American Independence. The Zionists dream of returning the Jewish people to their homeland.
In his sermon, he stated that he recommended to him a severe examination of the many duties he had set out for him: to undertake a self-examination; release your prejudices towards each other; subdue all your passions; and live in brotherhood, amity, and peace, just as Jews should do. “So shall it all be well with your here and after that, which God, out of his infinite mercies grant.”
Each Thanksgiving, the community recites Hallel with no blessings and prays for the US government.
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