Understand the Meaning of Thanksgiving Day

Edited by Nerissa Avisado, Anonymous, nasreen, Eng

When people hear the word "Thanksgiving", their minds are usually filled with images of friends and family gathered around a feast of roast turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and other traditional fare that that have graced dinner tables for generations. For many, Thanksgiving has become a time of frenetic shopping and weekends out of town. These are happy images, but no one can deny that there is a deeper meaning to Thanksgiving. Understanding this meaning will go a long way towards enriching this holiday, and making more precious everything it seeks to celebrate.

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Many countries around the globe celebrate Thanksgiving as a day for giving thanks for the season's harvest, and blessings received throughout the year. The United States and Canada both celebrate it as a national holiday with the United States reserving the fourth Thursday of November for the occasion, and Canada celebrating it on the second Monday of October. It is probably the American tradition of Thanksgiving that is best known throughout the world. This is a tradition that has been handed down through generations, and it is rooted in the history of the country.

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The First Thanksgiving

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    It is believed that the first Thanksgiving in the United States took place in the fall of 1621, when the Plymouth colonists sat down with the Wampanoag Indians to share a feast celebrating the harvest of the season.
    There are scholarly articles today that attempt to provide a more accurate perspective of this first joint celebration, especially since Florida, Texas, Maine, and Virginia are each claiming to its setting.
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  2. 2
    The first Thanksgiving gathering is said to have lasted three days, attended by around 90 guests from the Wampanoag tribe, including Chief Massasoit Osamequin.
    1. At this point the colonists were a struggling group who knew little of what it took to survive in America.
    2. The members of the Wampanoag tribe helped the settlers by teaching them how to hunt and fish.
    3. They also showed the colonists what could be gathered from the land to eat, and what crops could be planted.
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  3. 3
    Some accounts say that on that first Thanksgiving the Wampanoags actually came to the gathering without the benefit of a formal invitation.
    1. Hearing of the event, they simply came with food to be shared by all: deer meat, wild turkey, rabbit, lobster, corn, squash, and beans.
    2. With their presence, the celebration took a different turn from the way the Pilgrims would have conducted it. Instead of the usual three days of Puritan prayer and fasting, there were now persons belonging to a different culture joining the activity.
    3. The Wampanoags worshipped the Great Spirit instead of the God the Puritans knew, and they did things differently.
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  4. 4
    There is much to be learned from that first Thanksgiving.
    1. It was a time of sincere gratitude, a time when a small community, striving to adjust to a new and harsh environment, received invaluable help from a people they considered inferior to them.
    2. Though the differences in culture and the pressures of economics would later put these two groups squarely on opposite sides, for that season they were simply a community.
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Thanksgiving as an Official Holiday

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    In 1789, more than a century and a half after the first Thanksgiving, President George Washington declared November 26 as a day to be dedicated to giving thanks for the nation and its new constitution.
    1. This date was later affirmed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, when he declared the last Thursday of November as an official holiday for the entire nation.
    2. This declaration was part of the effort to lift the morale of a country that was heading towards civil war.
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  2. 2
    More than 70 years later, in 1939, Franklin D.
    Roosevelt adjusted the date a week earlier, moving Thanksgiving to the third week of November.  
    1. This declaration was more than just an act of caprice; it was a move designed to allow consumers more time to shop before Christmas, since retailers knew people did their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving.
    2. This adjustment was made during the Great Depression, when it was important to do every bit possible to boost the economy.
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Thanksgiving Today

Thanksgiving today is a great opportunity for reunions, and though the occasion is often stressful and tiring, many families consider it a very important annual event that nobody is supposed to miss. Most families have developed both traditions and coping mechanisms to survive this holiday.

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Those who welcome the chance to whip up a special meal will find it easy to do so these days. Those who have neither the time nor skill to cook a traditional turkey dinner can simply buy everything ready made - but homemade style. There are quite a lot of stores that offer special packages for people who are too busy to cook but want the turkey, the yams, the pumpkin pie, the cranberry sauce, and all the trimmings.

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Embracing the Meaning of Thanksgiving

A lot of families will say a short prayer before the meal, or drink a couple of toasts after. If you want to shift some attention to the meaning of Thanksgiving, there are some activities you can initiate for people who are with you on that day. Although these activities can sometimes be a little difficult to start when people are caught up in chatting or preparing food, they are worth the trouble because your celebration will be richer and more memorable.

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  1. 1
    One of the things you can do is to simply have everyone stand for the customary prayer before the meal.
    After grace has been said, have people turn to the person to their right and to their left, and wish them well.
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    Another activity which may need a bit more preparation and time is preparing small envelopes with the names of people who will come.
    Sometime before or after the dinner, people are to write a short message of encouragement for the person whose name is on the envelope.
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  3. 3
    Who says you can only exchange gifts during Christmas parties?
    Start your own tradition and ask people for a Thanksgiving kringle.
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  4. 4
    If you did the inviting for the affair, get the ball rolling by preparing a memento of the affair, but add a short personal note about why you have invited that person.
    You can say something as simple as, "We wanted you to be with us today because you are special to yous."
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  5. 5
    If you are having a "sit down" dinner with place plates, put a little token with a note from you on each place.
    It doesn't have to be a long one; it is enough to put something like "because one of the things I am thankful for is you."
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There are other things you can do to remind people that Thanksgiving is more than just a social gathering. It is a tradition handed down through generations; one that has often been celebrated in the face of adversity. When reminded of all that this holiday means, hopefully people will not only be thankful for what they have; they will also be confident that they can successfully address the challenges of living in this generation.

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Categories : Holidays & Traditions

Recent edits by: nasreen, Anonymous, Nerissa Avisado

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