Giving Thanks and Finding Joy: A Celebration of Thanksgiving’s Past and Present

We’ve all heard of Thanksgiving, but do you know the real story behind the holiday? Catch up with this quick history on Thanksgiving, as well as some traditions and events you can take part in!

Giving Thanks and Finding Joy: A Celebration of Thanksgiving’s Past and Present

Updated: November 24, 2023

November 24, 2023

The holiday season has finally come, and we are kicking it off with Thanksgiving! For many across the country, Thanksgiving is a joyous holiday that brings together families and friends. Here at Madison on November 21, our third annual Friendsgiving event was held by the Black Student Alliance (BSA), bringing together hundreds of students and staff members for an interactive party. We asked sophomores Isabella Thompson and Loganne Massie, who attended the Friendsgiving celebration, to guide us through the event and share their opinions on it.

Attendees gathered in the auditorium prior to the event and took a pledge of kindness in the spirit of kindness. Afterward, students were randomly seated in the cafeteria for the opportunity to meet new people. Students answered questions about themselves and their school experiences, learned about their peers, and then indulged in a potluck-style feast. A potluck is an event or party where each person brings their own dish—exactly what Madison students were told to do. With a diverse community of students, a multitude of cultures were represented through the meals. After eating, students danced together for the rest of the evening. Loganne Massie spoke on behalf of many students when she told us:

“I would like to say thank you to Mrs. Cohen and the BSA for hosting our third annual Friendsgiving, and everyone had a blast!”

What is Thanksgiving?

The history of Thanksgiving goes back to September 6th, 1620, when a ship called the Mayflower departed from England. Led on by the promise of success and land in the new world—America—102 people had set aboard. These people later became known as pilgrims. After a 66-day voyage, they had finally arrived at Cape Cod, Massachusetts. However, this peninsula was not suitable for a settlement or a farm, so the pilgrims journeyed to find a better area. One month later, they crossed Massachusetts Bay and began building a village to settle in. The majority of them stayed on the ship during this construction, and many became sick due to exposure to diseases. Only about half of the pilgrims survived. Those who did survive moved ashore in March of 1621 and were greeted by a member of the Abenaki tribe. This member left them only to return to the pilgrims a few days later with a fellow Native American, Squanto of the Patuxet tribe. Squanto played a big role in helping the pilgrims settle in and learn their ways of life. He taught them how to grow food and catch fish, how to extract sap from maple trees, and what plants to avoid. With this support, the pilgrims were able to form an alliance with the Wampanoag tribe, which held its peace for many years to come. In November of 1621, the pilgrims realized the results of their first corn harvest, which proved to be extremely successful. In celebration, Governor William Bradford invited Native American allies for a feast.

With the documents that remained, historians were able to find the food spread of the first Thanksgiving, though the list may have expanded past our knowledge. The original feast consisted of fowl, deer, onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, and corn. Fruits included blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and cranberries. Shellfish, lobster, bass, clams, and oysters were all part of the original feast, though most Americans don't include fish nowadays. In adoption, we eat turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, and cranberry sauce. In both modern and olden times pumpkin pie is enjoyed too.

In 1789, George Washington decided that November 26th should be Thanksgiving day every year. This was overruled by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, as he decided Thanksgiving should be changed to every last Thursday of November. During Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency in 1939, November had five Thursdays instead of the usual four. This led to the questioning of whether Thanksgiving should be on the last Thursday (the fifth, as customary) or the second to last Thursday (the fourth, as usual). It was ultimately decided to make Thanksgiving occur on the second to last Thursday. The following year, when there were once again four Thursdays in November, Thanksgiving was now celebrated on the third or second to last Thursday due to the previous year's decision. This only lasted for those two years, as Congress passed a law returning Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November in 1941.

How can we celebrate Thanksgiving?

In addition to the customary Thanksgiving dinner, there are some other things families do during the holiday. Many families and family members will travel to gather together for Thanksgiving in the same way that the natives gathered for the feast. One tradition at the dinner is to break the turkey's wishbone—the bird's chest bone. Two family members each hold different ends of the wishbone and make a wish. Then, they pull on their end of the wishbone, and whoever ends up with the larger piece of the bone should have their wish granted.

There are also public festivities like Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. It will be streamed on Peacock and NBC from 8:30 A.M. to 12:00 P.M. on November 23rd. With different Broadway shows performing numbers each year, it has become a tradition. Last year, one of the parade's notable performances was from The Lion King, alongside many others. This year, we will be seeing & Juliet, Back to the Future: The Musical, How To Dance In Ohio, Shucked, and Spamalot. There will also be three football games throughout the day. The first game, which is the Packers vs Lions, starting at 12:30 P.M., will be streamed on FOX. The following game will start at 4:30 P.M. and will be the Commanders vs Cowboys, streaming on CBS. At 8:20 P.M. The final game of the day, the 49ers vs. the Seahawks will stream on NBC and Peacock.

There are many different ways you can spend your Thanksgiving—whether it's at school with peers, at home with family, or relaxing with friends. However, make sure you take time to reflect on the things that you are truly appreciative of and have a happy holiday!