Public observances of Thanksgiving usually emphasize the holiday's connection with the Pilgrims. Thanksgiving pageants and parades often feature children dressed in Pilgrim costume, complete with bonnets or tall hats, dark clothes, and shoes with large silver-colored buckles.
Many of the images commonly associated with Thanksgiving are derived from much older traditions of celebrating the autumn harvest. For example, the cornucopia (a horn-shaped basket overflowing with fruits and vegetables) is a typical emblem of Thanksgiving abundance that dates to ancient harvest festivals. Many communities also decorate their churches with fruits, flowers, and vegetables at Thanksgiving, much as European communities have for centuries during the autumn harvest season.
In keeping with the idea of celebrating a plentiful harvest, preparing and eating a large meal is a central part of most Thanksgiving celebrations. Thanksgiving menus usually include turkey, bread-crumb stuffing, cranberry sauce, squash, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. These simple foods recall the rustic virtues of the Pilgrims. Additionally, most of these foods are native to North America, emphasizing the natural bounty that greeted early settlers in their adopted homeland. Later groups of immigrants to North America often adapted the traditional holiday menu to fit their own tastes. For example, many Italian American Thanksgiving meals include Italian specialties, such as pasta and wine.
Many Americans digest their holiday meal while watching football games on television. Traditionally, two National Football League (NFL) teams, the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys, host games on Thanksgiving Day. High viewership of these holiday games has made football an American Thanksgiving tradition.




While most Americans think of the Pilgrims as celebrating the first Thanksgiving in America, there are some claims that others in the New World should be recognized as first. For example, in Texas there is a marker that says, "Feast of the First Thanksgiving – 1541." Further, other states and territories had their own traditions about their first thanksgiving. The truth is that many times when a group was delivered from drought or hardship, a day of prayer and thanksgiving might be proclaimed.

According to tradition, the first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by the English Pilgrims who had founded the Plymouth Colony, now in the state of Massachusetts. The Pilgrims marked the occasion by feasting with their Native American guests-members of the Wampanoag tribe-who brought gifts of food as a gesture of goodwill. Although this event was an important part of American colonial history, there is no evidence that any of the participants thought of the feast as a thanksgiving celebration. Two years later, during a period of drought, a day of fasting and prayer was changed to one of thanksgiving because rains came during the prayers. Gradually the custom prevailed among New Englanders to annually celebrate Thanksgiving after the harvest.  Colonial governments and, later, state governments took up the Puritan custom of designating thanksgiving days to commemorate various public events. Gradually the tradition of holding annual thanksgiving holidays spread throughout New England and into other states. During the American Revolution (1775-1783) the Continental Congress proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving following the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. U.S. President George Washington proclaimed another day of thanksgiving in 1789 in honor of the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom, and many other states soon did the same. Most of the state celebrations were held in November, but not always on the same day.
In the mid-19th century Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Ladies Book, led a movement to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In 1863, during the American Civil War (1861-1865), President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November Thanksgiving Day in order to bolster the Union's morale. After the war, Congress established Thanksgiving as a national holiday, but widespread national observance caught on only gradually. Many Southerners saw the new holiday as an attempt to impose Northern customs on them. However, in the late 19th century Thanksgiving's emphasis on home and family appealed to many people throughout the United States. As a distinctly American holiday, Thanksgiving was also considered an introduction to American values for the millions of immigrants then entering the country.

After 1869, each year the president proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. However, there was some contention over the actual date.  During the 20th century, as the population of the United States became increasingly urban, new Thanksgiving traditions emerged that catered to city dwellers. The day after Thanksgiving gradually became known as the first day of the Christmas shopping season. To attract customers, large retailers such as Macy's in New York City and Gimbel's in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, began to sponsor lavish parades. By 1934 the Macy's parade, featuring richly decorated floats and gigantic balloons, attracted more than one million spectators annually. The custom of watching football games on Thanksgiving Day also evolved during the early decades of the 20th century. As football became increasingly popular in the 1920s and 1930s, many people began to enjoy the holiday at a football stadium. Teams in the National Football League eventually established traditions of playing nationally televised games on Thanksgiving afternoon.  The National Dry Retail Goods Association asked President Franklin Roosevelt to move the date of Thanksgiving that year since it would fall on November 30. Since the traditional shopping season for Christmas, then as now, started with Thanksgiving, this would leave a short shopping season reducing possible sales for the retailers. Roosevelt refused.   However, when Thanksgiving would again fall on November 30, 1939, Roosevelt then agreed. Even though Roosevelt's proclamation only set the actual date of Thanksgiving as the 23rd for the District of Columbia, this changed caused a furor. Many people felt that the president was messing with tradition for the sake of the economy. Each state decided for itself with 23 states choosing to celebrate on the New Deal date of November 23 and 23 staying with the traditional date. Texas and Colorado decided to celebrate Thanksgiving twice! The confusion of the date for Thanksgiving continued through 1940 and 1941. Due to the confusion, Roosevelt announced that the traditional date of the last Thursday in November would return in 1942. However, many individuals wanted to insure that the date would not be changed again. Therefore, a bill was introduced that Roosevelt signed into law on November 26, 1941 establishing the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. This has been followed by every state in the union since 1956.

Thanksgiving is also a legal holiday in Canada. Because Canada is north of the United States, its harvest comes earlier in the year. Accordingly, the Thanksgiving holiday falls earlier in Canada than in the United States. The Canadian Parliament set aside November 6 for annual Thanksgiving observances in 1879. In 1957 the date was shifted to an even earlier day, to the second Monday in October.

"Thanksgiving Day," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2000. 

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