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Thanksgiving History and Facts for Kids


Americans celebrate this holiday every year on a Thursday in November. Everyone knows that the day is filled with turkey, football and family, but how did it originate? What were the first givers of thanks actually thankful for? Is the holiday religious or secular in nature? The facts below provide answers to some of the most common questions about this holiday.

Questions and Answers about Thanksgiving

1. Which US President made the first Thanksgiving proclamation?

During his presidency, George Washington issued his Thanksgiving Day proclamation, which read as follows: “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public Thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

2. Which US President made Thanksgiving a national holiday?

President Abraham Lincoln made the annually celebrated holiday of Thanksgiving a national holiday on October 3, 1863. He declared that Thanksgiving would fall on the last Thursday in November each year. The first nationally recognized holiday was celebrated on Thursday, November 26, 1863.

3. How did Thanksgiving start?

There isn’t just one idea about how Thanksgiving originated. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians in the early 1600s. However, it did not immediately turn into a yearly tradition. The new settlers endured years of hardship including crop troubles, starvation and disease. George Washington declared a day of Thanksgiving in 1777 during the American Revolution, however the holiday still didn’t become an annual or national holiday. Almost 100 years later in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving should be a national holiday. It was then that Americans began to celebrate the holiday on a yearly basis.

4. Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?

Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving according to Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation, given in 1863 during the American Civil WarLincoln spoke about the nation saying, “we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.” He went on later to say, “It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.”
In his statement, Lincoln states that the reason Americans should celebrate the holiday annually is to give thanks to God for His blessings and for all He has provided.

5. Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

The most common presumption for why we eat turkeys on Thanksgiving dates back prior to the first Thanksgiving that the Pilgrims and Indians celebrated in America. It is thought that Queen Elizabeth, in celebrating a Fall Harvest in England and asked for roast goose to be served. This was a special delicacy at the time. Perhaps when the Pilgrims were celebrating together with the Indians, because there were not as many geese as wild fowl, they celebrated with what was available. This likely included wild fowl and deer meat.

In the 1800s, Sarah Josepha Hale learned about the first feast at Plimoth Plantation and used Thanksgiving as an opportunity to publish recipes for holidays. These dishes included turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. This set a precedent for years to come.

6. Where was the first Thanksgiving celebrated?

The first Thanksgiving took place on Plimoth Plantation, which is today located in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was 1621, and 53 Pilgrims from the Mayflower voyage in 1620 had survived the winter of 1620/1621 and the following spring/summerseason. These survivors endured food shortages, bitterly cold weather and hostile Indians during that time. They decided in late fall of 1621, after the first harvest, to join together with the Wampanoag Indians (with whom they had become friends) and celebrate a day of thanks with dancing, food and thanks to God.

7. What is the purpose of Thanksgiving?

Originally, Thanksgiving was a religious holiday, celebrated first by the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plimoth Plantation. They used with three-day celebration to come together in peace, eat, dance, sing and give thanks to God for allowing them to survive the harsh winter and reap the following summer’s harvest, providing plenty of food for the colony. Everything that took place during that first Thanksgiving was to honor God and his blessings.
Today, the purpose of Thanksgiving still retains a religious purpose for those that are followers of God, but it has also become a secular holiday and a time for all Americans to gather together with those that are important to them and give thanks for what they have.

8. Why do Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving?

The reason for the Canadian Thanksgiving is to celebrate and give thanks for a successful harvest. This holiday takes place on the second Monday of October. This date was decided only recently by Parliament, on January 31, 1957. It was decreed as “a day of general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.”

9. Things to do on Thanksgiving

Traditionally, thanksgiving is a day spent with family preparing and cooking a large meal that includes turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, green beans, vegetables and bread. The feast is served in the early afternoon, because after the meal come the Thanksgiving Day football games. There are many other activities to take part in with family on this special day as well. For example, play a game of touch football or take a walk with family. It is also a great idea to help others that are less fortunate on Thanksgiving Day. Bring canned food, or even fresh ingredients or turkeys to a local shelter so that their Thanksgiving can be a special day to remember.

10. When is Thanksgiving celebrated in the United States and why?

Thanksgiving is celebrated on a Thursday in November in the United States. This is a tradition dating back to colonial times when a series of proclamations in the 18th century declared various Thursdays in November to be a day of thanksgiving. John Hanson, Charles Thomson, Jonathan Belcher and George Washington were all political figures during this time that each declared a day of thanksgiving to be held on a Thursday in November. When Abraham Lincoln declared the national holiday in 1863, it is possible that he was influenced by these previous declarations.