Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. Although the Thanksgiving that took place in 1621 is generally considered the first one, it wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared a national holiday for giving thanks. Nowadays, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

Celebrating Thanksgiving

The traditional reason to celebrate Thanksgiving is to acknowledge the arrival of the new settlers to America from England. The colonists arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in December, 1620. About a year after their arrival to the New World, they celebrated surviving that first winter and having success with their first harvest. The Wampanoag, a Native American tribe, were instrumental in helping the colonists that first year, and showed up to partake in the festivities.

Another reason for celebrating Thanksgiving is to give thanks for friends, family, and good health and fortune. Because of this, friends and family members travel from all over the country to be together, making the long weekend one of the busiest travel times of the year. They’ll share a large meal typically featuring turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, sweet potatoes or yams, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

Over time, a few other traditions have seeped into the long Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday to Sunday).  There are always two or three American football games on Thursday. There is also the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. And then Friday is known as Black Friday, typically considered the start of the Christmas season. Plenty of stores are open and offer extreme sales.

But it’s not fun and festivity for everyone in the US

An often overlooked reality about Thanksgiving is that while many Americans consider it to be their favourite holiday, the same sentiment is not true for the Wampanoag and other Native American tribes. For them, Thanksgiving Day is a day of mourning.

Since 1970, at noon on Thanksgiving Day, Native people from around the country gather near Plymouth Rock to mourn their losses and the way they were mistreated and misled by the settlers and their descendants not so long after that first Thanksgiving in 1621.

No matter how it is recognized or how people feel about it, Thanksgiving ranks alongside Independence Day as a day that defines American history and culture.

By Dan Franch, Thanksgiving 2013.