Skip to main content
Sign In

This Day in History - 11.24.2011

The History of Thanksgiving

By Brittany Strobl

Thanksgiving, as we know it today, is a time to give thanks with family and friends while enjoying a turkey feast. Like most of American history, the day is steeped in myths, conflicting versions of history, and wishful thinking merged with some hard facts. In one telling, the holiday originated in New Plymouth in the autumn of 1621. The pilgrims had come over to the New World and, after facing a hard and painstaking voyage, the Indians showed them how to survive. Rejoicing, the pilgrims hosted a huge feast consisting of ducks, geese, venison, fish, berries, and other regional delicacies. 

Although this is what we have come to call the “First Thanksgiving Dinner,” the Puritans did not see it this way. They believed that the first Thanksgiving Dinner came in the summer of 1623, after they were stricken with a terrible drought. William Bradford said, “they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the lord by humble and fervent prayer in this great distress.” That same evening, gentle showers began to rain down upon them. As word of the miracle spread, each New England colony adopted their own Thanksgiving, marked with Church services and feasts. 

By the late seventeenth century, Thanksgiving evolved into an annual autumn holiday as a way to give thanks for the year’s blessings. The governor of each colony was free to choose the date when Thanksgiving would be held. It was usually in later November, on a Wednesday or Thursday, when the blessings had been counted and the crops had come in. 

Whereas Thanksgiving has become synonymous today with gluttony and football, for much of our national history it was marked first with a day of prayer and fasting, with celebrations coming later. While the roots of Thanksgiving are contested, it is still a good way to remember and give thanks for all the blessings we’ve received over the past year. To make our own feasting a little more generous, think of the day as a perfect occasion for giving to the less fortunate; to do so, contact the Denver Rescue Mission (, which, for $1.92, can provide a homeless person with a complete Thanksgiving meal.