A Long Historic Struggle for Gratitude; Thanksgiving in America

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The Month of November is a time when we remember military Veterans and a time when we celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family.  It is also Native American history month.  Giving thanks in times of suffering and conflict is something that is common with all three topics.


THE HISTORY of THANKSGIVING; A 500 year old North American Tradition

The tradition of American Thanksgiving starts with the history of European settlers in North America.  They were thankful for their safe arrival and for the resources of survival. Politics and Economics have always been part of the story.

Politics is the human way of looking for power and influence.  To hold power leaders must compete for loyalty. Often political struggles in our history lead to war and violence.  If people feel protected and safe then they will be loyal.  The first European leaders in America were religious leaders or military leaders. Economics is the human way of looking for safety, survival and profit using resources. One of the primary motivations of the Europeans in North America was economic profit. The Spanish were searching for gold, the French traded vaulable fur and the English were looking for settlements with trading profits. 

Gratitude; The Way to Peace

In North America; the Spanish, Dutch & French in the 1500s and then English in the 1600s, Europeans gave thanks to God for their safety and survival.  These moments of thanksgiving were peaceful.  Mutual gratitude is one of the only ways to find peace. The tradition of Thanksgiving in America becomes possible when one culture sees value in another.  Much of history is a competition and a power struggle however some of the best moments come with a balance of power and an understanding of the other made possible by gratitude.  Thanksgiving was made possible for the Europeans when they began to see the native culture as a  necessary human resource for safety and survival.  What You Know About The First Thanksgiving Is Probably Wrong


Historical Examples of the “First Thanksgiving”

The Spanish were the first Europeans in North America.There are at least two different examples of Spanish celebrating a feast of Thanksgiving in America.  In both examples the Spanish people were grateful for their survival and recognized the necessity of native peoples.

1541: Spanish Explorers Hold a Feast

English settlers weren’t the first to celebrate a thanksgiving feast on American soil. According to the Texas Society Daughters of the American Colonists, the very first thanksgiving was observed by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Accompanied by 1,500 men in full armor, Coronado left Mexico City in 1540 and marched north in search of gold. As the company camped in Palo Duro Canyon in 1541, Padre Fray Juan de Padilla called for a feast of prayer and thanksgiving, beating out the Plymouth Thanksgiving by 79 years. IMAGE SOURCE

Barclay Gibson/Texas EscapesA 1936 monument in Amarillo’s Elmwood Park recognizes the martyrdom of Father Fray Juan de Padillo who performed a Thanksgiving Mass in Palo Duro Canyon in 1541 while traveling with Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.

The French Huguenots in Florida 1564

Another “first Thanksgiving” occurred on June 30, 1564, when French Huguenot colonists celebrated in a settlement near Jacksonville, Florida. This “first Thanksgiving,” was later commemorated at the Fort Carolina Memorial on the St. Johns River in eastern Jacksonville.

Timucuan Indians

1598: A Second Early Feast Among Spanish 

A second Texas town claims to have been the real site of the first Thanksgiving in America. In 1598, a wealthy Spanish dignitary named Juan de Oñate was granted lands among the Pueblo Indians in the American Southwest. He decided to blaze a new path directly across the Chihuahua Desert to reach the Rio Grande. Oñate’s party of 500 soldiers, women and children barely survived the harrowing journey, nearly dying of thirst and exhaustion when they reached the river. (Two horses reportedly drank so much water that their stomachs burst.)


Statues Of Conquistador Juan De Oñate Come Down As New Mexico Wrestles With History | NPR & Houston Public Media
This statue of Spanish Conquistador Juan De Onate in New Mexico was removed in 2020
In 1599, less than one year after his “first thanksgiving”, conquistador Jaun de Onate led a massacre against the Acoma people.









Coronado’s Expedition of the Southwest

Survival in Jamestown, Virginia 1607-1610

The English settlers first came across the Atlantic Ocean to Virginia in 1607 and Massachusetts in 1620.  The Virginia colonists were looking for trade profit through a joint stock company.  They settled in Jamestown, Virginia and later Williamsburg with the help of some native Powhatans.

The harsh winter of 1609-1610 generated a famine that caused the deaths of 430 of the 490 settlers. In the spring of 1610, colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, enjoyed a Thanksgiving service after English supply ships arrived with food. This colonial celebration has also been considered the “first Thanksgiving.”

The Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusettes 1621

The pilgrims who came to Plymouth Bay Massachusetts after spending 10 years in the Netherlands are main characters in the most famous example of Thanksgiving history in America. It is clear in all of these examples that there was much suffering and struggle even as they gave thanks together.

Why is Thanksgiving celebrated on a THURSDAY?

For the English Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts Thursday was a church meeting day.  The English Puritan leader William Bradford invited the native people to join together on Thursday for a harvest feast of gratitude in Thanksgiving.

The tradition of celebrating the holiday on Thursday dates back to the early history of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, when post-harvest holidays were celebrated on the weekday regularly set aside as “Lecture Day,” a midweek church meeting where topical sermons were presented. A famous Thanksgiving observance occurred in the autumn of 1621, when Plymouth governor William Bradford invited local members of the Wampanoag tribe to join the Pilgrims in a festival held in gratitude for the bounty of the season.

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1925; Oil on canvas, 30 x 39 1/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

The Tradition of Food on the American Thanksgiving Day Table

Why do we eat Turkey, Squash, Potatoes, Corn and Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving? To answer this question it is helpful to understand the Coumbian Exchange.  The Globalization of food through the transport of plants and animals has been a 500 year process since the first Spanish ships navigated by Christopher Colombus arrived in the Bahamas in October 1492 .  The chart below shows that Turkey, Pumpkin, Squash, Potatoes, Peanuts, Corn, and Tomatoes were all native foods in America.  The first Thanksgiving meals likely included these foods.


The Columbian Exchange

The Science Behind the Thanksgiving Menu


Thanksgiving Politics in the United States; the Presidential Declaration 

The tradition of Thanksgiving in America was over 200 years old before the United States Government was even created.  It has always been the tradition of American leaders to call for a day of Thanksgiving each year.

Thanksgiving became an annual custom throughout New England in the 17th century, and in 1777 the Continental Congress declared the first national American Thanksgiving following the Patriot victory at Saratoga. In 1789, President George Washington became the first president to proclaim a Thanksgiving holiday, when, at the request of Congress, he proclaimed November 26, a Thursday, as a day of national thanksgiving for the U.S. Constitution.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday during the US Civil War under the direction of President Abraham Lincoln.  From President Lincoln until President F.D. Roosevelt, every American President anually declared a day of national Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November. In 1939 the United States was just coming out of the economic depression and President F.D. R. wanted to extend the Christmas shopping season.  He changed tradition and named November 23, the second to last Thursday in November 1939 as Thanksgiving day.  After two years in a row of disagreement over Thanksgiving day in different states, the US Congress enacted a joint bill in the House and Senate and signed by Rossevelt in 1941.

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Personal Gratitude; We Believe that Gratitude Motivates Positive Action

What is the Action of your Gratitude?

I am grateful to God for having me healthy and my family for giving me the opportunity to go to the United States and to be able to get ahead with my family. – Edwin

I am grateful to God, for giving me life and health, also to my family for having helped me come to this country, and now even though we are far from each other I know that we will always be a united family. –Eduardo

I’m thankful for being inside a safe place and having the opportunity to complete my own life by finishing my education.

The action of my gratitude is to help anyone want to learn or have a difficulty in learning something. – Tariq


I am grateful for having a family and for having an opportunity in this country to study in this school for waking up every day and many more things. I am very grateful.

The action of my gratitude would be to help someone who needs help or when they ask for help to do something for them.  I want to make my environment better , to make a difference in action like planting trees for future generations. – Carlos

 I am thankful for… I am grateful for my life, for being able to be in This country, for being with my brothers, my father and l am Also grateful for studying.

The action of my gratitude is thatI will always feel gratitude for being in this Country because it has given me many opportunities, it has taught me New things and l push a lot that is why l admire and show respect. I will always feel gratitude for the education my parents and siblings have given. – Alvaro

 I am thankful for… Link, Thankful to God for life for giving me and my family health, for the opportunities he has given me, grateful to my teachers for what they teach every day, and grateful for everything, good or bad because that is why I receive up-to-date education . today.

The action of my gratitude is to help people who need it, give them my hand when they need it. – Axel

I am grateful for my family for supporting me in everything and grateful for my teachers for teaching me everything at school and for the opportunities that life is giving me. – Hernan

I’m grateful for God and everything that he has blessed me with, wouldn’t be anywhere without him. My gratitude action is giving back and trying to give people a reason to be grateful as well. – Angie                                                                

I am grateful for all the good, the bad, the experiences that I had in my stay in this country, but more for the opportunities that it has offered me by being able to come here.  – Alex

I am thankful for being alive and for all the blessings that I received this year.

The action of my gratitude is to be grateful and value the things I have and try to be a better  person every day. –Sofia P.

I am grateful for one more year with my family and the opportunity to study, I have had a very hard year and God has always been with me and I am thankful for that because before everything bad there is always something good. – Lucrecia

I am thankful for all the good and bad that has happened to me during the year, and for all the challenges that I have overcome, I give thanks for helping me to be a better person.

The action of my gratitude is because I appreciate everything that has happened to me despite having failed in some actions and made mistakes. I think that every good or bad thing happens for some reason.

  1. Family.
  2. Friends .
  3. School.
  4. Work.
  5. Overcoming challenges.

Cristina L .

I am thankful for the roof over my head and the warm meals I have on my table everyday. I am thankful for good health and for the support I receive.

The way I demonstrate gratitude is by helping out the community, helping out with food drives or donating clothing or volunteering at my younger sisters school with anything I can.  – Katie V

I am grateful that I am still alive and went through the ups and downs of life, I am thankful for my family and friends being there for me whenever I need them, I also am grateful that I could also be there for them and be open for help as always. The best thing I am grateful for now is that my premature birthed nephew survived as well as my sister both being healthy. – SongcoR

Research Sources:

Government and the  history of Thanksgiving  :LINK  

FDR and the modern THANKSGIVING LINK  




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