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The story of Thanksgiving

©iStockphoto.com/Nina Shannon ©iStockphoto.com/Nina Shannon

The idea of giving thanks for bountiful crops has been around for centuries. Varied cultures from around the world have held festivals with dancing, eating, drinking and parades in order to thank the powers that be for food going into the long, cold winter.

The traditional American Thanksgiving began in much the same spirit. In 1620 the Pilgrims sailed across the Atlantic, landing in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. At the time the Wampanoags tribe of Native Americans were living along the shores of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. At first the two groups did not mix.

After a time, the Pilgrims found that the wheat they brought from Europe would not grow in the rocky soil by the sea and many of them died from starvation or from the cold during their first winter. Soon the Wampanoags came to see that the Pilgrims needed guidance in their agricultural pursuits. One English speaking Native American in particular -- Squanto -- helped to bridge the linguistic gap between the two cultures.

The Indians helped the Pilgrims plant corn instead of wheat. They taught them to make sturdy Indian -style housing that would protect them in the winter months much better than their feeble lean-tos had the snow season. The Wampanoags showed the Pilgrims how to hunt game, fish for food, and how to use plants and weeds for seasonings and medicine.

Soon the Pilgrims came to realize how much better off they were than before meeting the Wampanoags. They decided to have a "Thanks giving day" in November to celebrate the successful crop and to show their appreciation to their new friends. The two parties feasted for three long days.

The festival shortly became an annual occasion to celebrate the bringing in of a successful crop. On June 20 1676 Charlestown, Mass declared the first formal Thanksgiving proclamation. In 1817, New York State first adopted Thanksgiving as a formal holiday. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln approved the first national day of thanks. Every president since has given a formal proclamation usually declaring the fourth Thursday in November the Thanksgiving holiday.

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