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article imageWhere was the first Thanksgiving celebrated?

By Karen Graham     Nov 20, 2014 in World
Thanksgiving is almost here, and depending on where in America or Canada you happen to reside, you can lay claim to the first Thanksgiving being celebrated where you live. But that brings up a question, where was the feast held the first time?
For years, American school children were taught a simplified version of the holiday. This often included a reenactment of the "first Thanksgiving" held by the Pilgrims in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. If the truth is known, that 1621 feast, if you want to call it a feast, really wasn't the first one at all.
When the Pilgrims came to America in 1620, like most Europeans at that time, they often set aside days to give thanks to God. Those living in the harsh wilderness of the new World were no different. There were ample opportunities for thanksgiving; surviving a harsh winter, good crops, or the arrival of a supply ship from England, to name just a few.
Another historically inaccurate depiction.of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth.
Another historically inaccurate depiction.of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth.
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914)
The Pilgrims celebrated a number of days of thanksgiving, but none of them could be called the "first Thanksgiving." The particular day most often mentioned, was a day of Thanksgiving, including the feast. According to one colonist, "For three dayes we entertained and feasted." According to another colonist, they may have even dined on turkey. He wrote about a "great store of wild Turkies."
Canada lays claim for the first Thanksgiving celebration
So where was the real first Thanksgiving held? It depends on where you live. If you are Canadian, (yes folks, Canada can lay claim to the first Thanksgiving), then you still celebrate the traditions that started in Europe centuries ago. For hundreds of years, celebrations of thanks and the harvest took place, usually in October, and those traditions were brought to the New World.
Thanksgiving Day in Canada is more like a harvest festival  just as Europeans have celebrated for hu...
Thanksgiving Day in Canada is more like a harvest festival, just as Europeans have celebrated for hundreds of years.
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Martin Frobisher, an explorer from England looking for the Northwest Passage, is credited with starting Canada's first Thanksgiving. Arriving in Newfoundland in 1578, he gave thanks for his safe arrival to the New World. Frobisher's arrival in the New World took place 43 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.
For 300-years, Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada in either late October or the first part of November. It wasn't until 1879 that November 6th was officially set aside as a national day of Thanksgiving. But the Canadian Parliament decided to change things a bit. So on January 31, 1957, it was announced that the second Monday in October would be "a day of general thanksgiving to almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed."
There was a good reason for Thanksgiving Day being moved to the second Monday in October, and it was all because of the world wars. Remembrance Day, November 11, kept falling within the same week as Thanksgiving Day on the Calendar. Canada's Remembrance Day is the same as Veterans Day in the United States, and both are days where the sacrifices of our military members are honored.
Thanksgiving in Florida and on the Rio Grande
There are actually three events that took place, all claims to being when the first Thanksgiving took place in the United States. The first, and probably the earliest day of Thanksgiving took place on September 8, 1565. An explorer, Pedro Menéndez de Avilé, along with his compatriots celebrated a day of thanksgiving in Saint Augustine, Florida. It is said he even invited members of the Timucua tribe to dine along with them.
The  real  first Thanksgiving took place in St. Augustine  Fla.  on Sept. 8  1565  on a gassy spot n...
The "real" first Thanksgiving took place in St. Augustine, Fla., on Sept. 8, 1565, on a gassy spot near the Matanzas River in North Florida.
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What makes this story so intriguing is the fact that St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the continental United States. So there is some historical credence to the tale of a first Thanksgiving being held in Florida.
Then there was the Spanish Conquistador, Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar, who in 1598 succeeded in crossing over 350 miles of Mexican desert safely. Reaching the banks of the Rio Grande River, he and his crew stopped and gave thanks for their safe journey. While not a Thanksgiving celebration with a hugr feast, this event stretches it a bit in claiming to be a first. His biggest claim to fame was claiming all of the lands north of the Rio Grande for the Spanish Empire.
Virginia's claim to the first Thanksgiving
Virginia already has a claim to a lot of "firsts." The commonwealth is the "birthplace of a nation," and the "mother of presidents." Eight of our presidents having been born in Virginia, along with six first ladies. Virginia is the state where Cornwallis surrendered, ending the American Revolution.
A hardy band of Englishmen landed at Berkeley Hundred on the James River and held the real first Tha...
A hardy band of Englishmen landed at Berkeley Hundred on the James River and held the real first Thanksgiving. Captain John Woodlief and thirty-seven men sailed from Bristol, England, on the ship Margaret and reached Berkeley Hundred nearly three months later in December 1619. The first thing they did on landing ashore was give thanks to God.
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Virginians think it is only fitting that we lay claim to having the first Thanksgiving, too. On December 4th. of 1619, a party of 38 people, led by Captain John Woodlief. traveled up the James River from their settlement in Jamestown. Arriving on the north bank of the river at what is now known as Berkeley 100, the group followed the instructions written in the charter they carried with them.
The group's charter stated that upon landing, "the day of arrival be observed yearly as a day of Thanksgiving to God." There were no invited guests, nor was there a feast with turkey and dressing. Just Woodlief and 38 cold and tired people, bending their knees in thanksgiving to God for their safe arrival. Since that time, Berkeley Plantation, as it is now known, holds an annual Thanksgiving Day in November.
America's official Thanksgiving was proclaimed in 1863
Here's the real truth about when Thanksgiving was made official. The events leading up to the proclamation were the Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the "last Thursday in November to be a national day of Thanksgiving." And so our Thanksgiving Day was born. The fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day was made federal law in 1941.
Regardless of where or when the first Thanksgiving took place, the day should beset aside as a day of giving thanks to our God, regardless of our religious convictions. Remember too, the first celebrations weren't huge feasts or trips to the shopping malls. There was no Black Friday or football games. The day was just a day like any other, with the exception that it was a time to reflect and offer praise to our maker for the blessings we have.
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