KEY POINTS

  • The first Thanksgiving was held in November 1621 when the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people held a feast together
  • Governor William Bradford organized the feast after the Pilgrims' first successful corn harvest
  • It was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims

Thanksgiving is a holiday Americans celebrate annually, but when exactly did it start? And what's the story behind it?

Days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual states and colonies for over two centuries, according to History.com. It wasn't until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln officially proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be observed each year on the last Thursday of November.

The holiday is intended to celebrate the harvest and other blessings of the past year. Americans believe the very first Thanksgiving dinner occurred in 1621 when the Pilgrims of Plymouth and the Native Americans of Wampanoag held a feast.

In 1620, a small merchant ship called the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers. The passengers, who were a mix of religious separatists and people who wanted prosperity and land ownership, arrived in Massachusetts later that year.

After an unforgiving first winter in America, about half of the hopeful passengers of the ship died from various disease outbreaks. The survivors went ashore in the spring.

It was Squanto, a Native American, who taught the remaining Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees and other skills they could use for survival. He also helped them forge an alliance with the Wampanoag tribe.

thanksgiving Pictured: Families pray before Thanksgiving dinner. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

As the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people continued socializing, the two groups eventually shared an autumn harvest feast, where they fired guns, ran races and drank liquor. The feast was held in November of 1621, after the Pilgrims' first successful corn harvest, and was organized by Governor William Bradford.

The very first Thanksgiving lasted three days, according to Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow, whose writings provided much of the information people know of the holiday today. It was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims.

Although people have now incorporated their own touches into Thanksgiving dinners, the traditional fare typically includes turkey, bread stuffing, potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie.

In many households, the essence of Thanksgiving now revolves around sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends, with the intention of remembering all the blessings they received within the past year.

The holiday associated with Pilgrims and Native Americans has come to symbolize intercultural peace, America’s opportunity for newcomers and the sanctity of home and family, according to Britannica.