Thanksgiving Holiday History is As Old As Metuchen Itself

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thanksgiving.jpegMetuchen has existed as a town since 1689 and many Thanksgivings have been celebrated here by many different groups of people. As part of this long-standing traditional American holiday, here's a little background on the day itself and the fascinating facts behind it.


Did you know that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated well before the Pilgrims ever set foot on Plymouth Rock? Did you know that, during the Depression, President Roosevelt changed the date on which it was celebrated in order to facilitate a longer Christmas shopping period? Read on for some more facts about the real origins of this popular holiday.

In 1565, in the area that is now known as St. Augustine's, Florida, a group of Spaniards celebrated their safe passage across the sea. Later, in 1619, English settlers celebrated their journey to the Berkeley Hundred. This area was in close proximity of an established settlement, Jamestown, and is now known as Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. Although Thanksgiving doesn't promote a particular domination's beliefs, settlers made an annual requirement to "give thanks to God" in the town's governing papers. To this day, Berkeley boasts the oldest, lasting Thanksgiving.

In 1621, celebrations in the colony of Plymouth Plantation, which is now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts, were begun. Because of their religious persecution in England, subsequent rough voyage on the Mayflower, as well as their difficulties building homes and finding food in the New World, the Pilgrims decided to celebrate an overabundant harvest. The Wampanoag Indians, particularly an Indian named Squanto, helped the struggling Pilgrims, who did not adapt easily to the New World. In addition to teaching the Englishmen to grow corn (maize), Squanto also worked as a translator between the two different cultures. Although the day was celebrated on and off throughout the following years at Plymouth Plantation, it was not a continual celebrate. Due to natural elements, illness, famine, and low crop production, Thanksgiving was, primarily, celebrated when there was an overabundance of harvest. In the very basic sense, the Pilgrims were "giving thanks" for the necessities they felt lucky to have. A more permanent Thanksgiving was not established in the colonies until in the 1700s. After the Revolutionary War victory in Saratoga during the winter of 1777, a national Day of Thanks was proclaimed.

The First Continental Congress encouraged each state to adopt a day of thanks. During and following the Revolutionary War, George Washington declared a national day of thanks in 1789 and 1795, while second president, John Adams, declared a national day of thanks in 1798 and 1799. Following the first two presidencies, the nation celebrated a day of thanks in 1814, twice in 1815, and in 1816. However, these celebrations were not always observed in the fall, and were not celebrated in all areas of the United States. The southern states felt that the tradition was Puritanical and outdated, and they, often, refused to celebrate with the rest of the nation. During the Civil War, this became one of the many reasons given for Union succession.

Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," was the driving power behind making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her essays and editorials, which promoted a day of thanks, union, and harvest celebration, were published to the general public. Additionally, she wrote letters to President Abraham Lincoln, encouraging him to establish a national day whereby all Americans could give thanks. In 1863, the final Thursday in November was declared as Thanksgiving.

This remained unchanged until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) changed the date on which Thanksgiving was to be celebrated. By declaring the third Thursday in November Thanksgiving, FDR extended the shopping season, allowing commerce to help the depressed economy. Although the economy changed with the development of World War II, FDR signed another bill in 1941, changing the day back to the original last Thursday in November. Even now, this is the day Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.

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Wow...Thanks for the facts. I impressed my in-laws with the knowledge. They let me eat. Enjoy.

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