November is a particularly endearing month in the American calendar, since the fourth Thursday is marked by the Thanksgiving Day celebration, a special event chosen by families to meet and enjoy a good dinner together. Thanks to American films and mass media we are all familiar with this popular celebration but, what do we know about its origins? Today’s post will try to shed a light on this issue.
Thanksgiving Day’s history dates back to the beginning of the 17th century, when the first English pilgrims arrived to North America. Constituted as puritans, a split faction of the Church of England, these pilgrims sought to start a new life far away from their homeland. In 1620, after a short stay in the Netherlands and a long transatlantic voyage on board of the Mayflower, settled an area located in the current states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, in the region known as New England. After a first tough winter marked by disease and famine, the pilgrims could boast good crops the following year, partly thanks to the assistance from the indigenous population who taught the European settlers agricultural techniques adapted to the land, for example the use of fish as fertilizer. Thus, it was decided to celebrate a 3-day festival similar to those traditionally held in Europe after the harvest, typically distinguished for offering participants abundant food, lively music, all sorts of games and hunting. As a token of gratitude for their selfless assistance, numerous native Americans were invited to this festival.
Unfortunately, this peaceful coexistence between native Americans and European settlers did not last for long. In spite of its inspiring origin, Thanksgiving Day was not regularly celebrated for the following 240 years. In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day as national holiday, establishing the last Thursday of November as the day to hold it, being celebrated annually ever since. In 1941 it was decided to place it on the fourth Thursday of November instead, in order to give an early boost to the economic activity linked to the Christmas season.
Roast turkey (always filled with the appropriate stuffing) is without a doubt the most renowned Thanksgiving dish. Other types of fowl like goose or duck are also appreciated, but a great part of the culinary richness of Thanksgiving is to be found in the side dishes: potatoes, pumpkin cake, meatballs, assorted vegetables, cornbread, green bean casserole, filled eggs, different types of salad… for dessert it is possible to choose among different pies such as mince, pumpkin or apple. No doubt a really varied meal to celebrate such a special occasion with our loved ones…
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