With the election season in our rear view mirror and the holiday season looming ever closer, it is once again time for Americans to celebrate that uniquely American holiday that combines food, football, and family: Thanksgiving. In her new book Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience, Hudson Institute senior fellow Melanie Kirkpatrick details the history of the holiday, and how it came to be the occasion that we share today.
The first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts wasn’t exactly the inspiring celebration that latter day artists would come to depict. For one, only four of the eighteen women who had made the trip across the Atlantic had survived to see that day. In addition, the Pilgrims were likely outnumbered by the native Americans by a three-to-one ratio, and there was palpable tension between the two groups. Yet the holiday survived and was celebrated in various forms over the subsequent years, including what was known as “Forefather’s Day.” And while President George Washington issued a Thanksgiving proclamation (despite considerable opposition from the states), his successor Thomas Jefferson steadfastly refused to do so, on religious freedom grounds.