In the year 1620, a ship named the Mayflower brought 102 English men, women
and children to the rocky coast of what is now Massachusetts, one of the 50
states of the United States of America. The ship's passengers were
Puritans—members of a religious sect which was unpopular in Britain because its
members wanted to reform the Church of England. They came to America to found a
community where they could practice their religion without interference.
These Pilgrims—as they are usually known—came to an area uninhabited by other
Europeans. The people living there were Native Americans, the people most
Americans refer to as American Indians.
It was late in the year when the Pilgrims landed and founded the colony they
called Plymouth. They had only the belongings that they had brought on the small
ship The winter was cold, and about half of the Pilgrims died. In the spring,
with advice and help from the Indians, with whom they lived in peace, the
Pilgrims planted corn (known also as maize) and other crops and prepared as well
as they could for the next winter.
In October 1621, to celebrate the good harvest, the Pilgrims held a feast
which featured, among many other foods, wild turkey, which is native to North
America. They called this their day of thanksgiving, held to thank their God for
The story of that Pilgrim feast is well-known among Americans. It is told and
retold every year to young children in schools as one of the major American
holidays approaches. The holiday is called Thanksgiving Day and is now observed
on the fourth Thursday of November.
Other nations have days of thanksgiving, too, but Thanksgiving Day has a
special significance for Americans because it is traced back to that group of
people who were among the first to come to the New World in search of
Today, families—often including grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins
and grown children who live away from home— gather together, usually in a home
but sometimes in a restaurant, for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. This
almost always includes some of the foods served at the first Thanksgiving, roast
turkey and cranberry sauce, plus sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. Other dishes
vary according to family and regional traditions. In Minnesota and Wisconsin,
for instance, wild rice is often served. In other areas, sauerkraut is sometimes
on the menu. Often, relatives and friends contribute their own specialties to
make things easier on the cook. Before the feast, families usually pause to give
thanks for all their blessings—including the joy of being together on this day.
And many families like to share the day with others, inviting to their dinner
foreign students, military people stationed far from home, and people who have
Many people attend religious services on Thanksgiving Day, and watching
football games—sometimes in person but usually on television—is also a popular
Thanksgiving Day activity. The next day, a Friday, most people return to work.
But some people take the day off to begin shopping for Christmas gifts.
The day is one on which Americans also show increased concern for the poor.
Gifts of food for a dinner are common, Charitable organizations and churches
provide food or serve dinners for the needy.