Happy Thanksgiving

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On the fourth Thursday of November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, a national holiday honoring the early settlers and their harvest feast known as the first Thanksgiving. Today Thanksgiving is a very important holiday in the USA, families get together around a traditional meal and give thanks. 

What are the origins of this holiday?

Native Americans

Long before settlers came to the East Coast of the United States, the area was inhabited by many Native American tribes. The area which is now known as southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island was the home of the Wampanoag people for over 12,000 years . The native people knew the land well and fished, hunted, and harvested for thousands of generations.

The Settlers

A group of English Protestants wanted to break away from the Church of England. These ‘separatists’ initially moved to Holland and after 12 years of financial problems, they received funding from English merchants to sail across the Atlantic to settle in a ‘New World.’ The ship spent 66 days crossing the Atlantic Ocean, intending to land where New York City is now located. Due to the windy conditions, the group had to cut their trip short and settle at what is now called Cape Cod.

Settling and Exploring

As the Puritans prepared for winter, they gathered anything they could find, including Wampanoag supplies. One day, Squanto, a Wampagnoag who knew how to speak English, visited the settlers.  After several meetings, a formal agreement was made between the settlers and the native people and they joined together to protect each other from other tribes in March of 1621.

The Celebration

The first  harvest celebration took place between the Wampanoag natives and the English men, women and children. The meal consisted of deer, corn, shellfish, and roasted meat, far from today’s traditional Thanksgiving feast. They played ball games, sang, and danced. Although prayers and thanks were probably offered at the 1621 harvest gathering, the first recorded religious Thanksgiving Day in Plymouth happened two years later in 1623. On this occasion, the colonists gave thanks to God for rain after a two-month drought.

The Myths

Unlike the pictures we see, the settlers didn’t have silver buckles on their shoes. Nor did they wear somber, black clothing. Their clothes were actually bright and cheerful. Many portrayals of this harvest celebration also show the Native Americans wearing woven blankets on their shoulders and large, feathered headdresses, which is not true. The Englishmen didn’t even call themselves Pilgrims.

Here are a few links to videos about Thanksgiving:

– kids explain what Thanksgiving is about on Newsround

– President Obama makes his last turkey pardon with a lot of jokes!

– a cartoon about the story of Thanksgiving http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faUYJ9fMiGg

– a song by Nicole Westbrook about Thanksgiving (I didn’t say it was a good song!! but it’s very funny!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSBq8geuJk0

– things you maybe didn’t know about Thanksgiving here: http://www.history.com/videos/bet-you-didnt-know-thanksgiving#bet-you-didnt-know-thanksgiving

– learn all about Thanksgiving Day (with vocabulary and text on screen) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uG4XyNqUQxg

– The American Thanksgiving story (with subtitles) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BQSOkkoDjc

Modern Day Thanksgiving Traditions

Today Thanksgiving has become an important family occasion. Many people live far from family members and travel long distances by car, train, or plane to be with their loved ones. Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year!

Thanksgiving dinner almost always includes roast turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, pumpkin pie. Before the meal begins, families or friends usually pause to give thanks for their blessings, including the joy of being united for the occasion. Some families include breaking the turkey’s wishbone as part of their celebration. The wishbone is found attached to the breast meat in the turkey’s chest. After the meat has been removed and the wishbone has had a chance to become dry and brittle, two people each take one end of the bone, make a wish, and pull. Whoever ends up with the larger part of the bone gets their wish!

Each year at Thanksgiving, the President of the United States receives a gift of a live turkey . At a White House ceremony, the president traditionally « pardons » two National Thanksgiving Turkeys , allowing them to live the rest of their lives on a farm!  Or so they say!!!

Television also plays a part in Thanksgiving celebrations. Many families watch the New York City Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade includes marching bands, floats, songs and performances from Broadway musicals, and giant helium-filled balloons!

Watch about it here:http://live.wsj.com/video/macy-thanksgiving-day-parade/5F923FFE-A2AF-408E-81D6-7D73D9F1FFA9.html#!5F923FFE-A2AF-408E-81D6-7D73D9F1FFA9

and learn about the history of the parade here: http://video.about.com/travelwithkids/History-of-the-Macy-s-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-in-NYC.htm