The American holiday of Thanksgiving has evolved quite a bit since its first occurrence in 1621. Originating as a three-day feast, the Plymouth colonists were joined by members of the local Wampanoag tribe, eating fowl and deer as well as berries, fish, clams, plums and boiled pumpkin.
It wasn’t until October 1777 that all 13 original colonies celebrated a day of Thanksgiving together. The very first national day of Thanksgiving was held in 1789, when President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 26 to be “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” a day to give thanks for the opportunity of forming a new nation as well as the establishment of a new constitution.
Even after being declared a national holiday, Thanksgiving was not celebrated annually until Sarah Josepha Hale, author of the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” nursery rhyme, spent decades advocating for the holiday in the 1800s. Hale saw Thanksgiving as a way to inspire hope and belief into the people devastated by the Civil War. On Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation declaring the last Thursday of November to be a day of “thanksgiving and praise,” making Thanksgiving a set holiday with a specific, annual date.
A tradition of Thanksgiving Proclamation ensued, with each succeeding president issuing their own Thanksgiving Proclamation annually to announce that the holiday would be held on the last Thursday of November.
As the years went on, new traditions began to evolve within the American population. The 1920s introduced the kewpie dolls, dressed as pilgrims and Native Americans, as popular table pieces. Napkins with printed Thanksgiving images did not arrive until the early 1940s, and the ’50s brought wax candles in the shape of turkeys.
And now in the 21st century, with vegetarianism and veganism on the rise, tofu turkeys have become popular in meatless homes.
”We don’t have any traditions other than the normal turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc.,” Jennifer Bormann, associate professor of animal science and genetics, said.
With modern day Thanksgiving dinners, most families exhibit the turkey with mashed potatoes, stuffing, and sometimes a green bean casserole or yams. Then there’s the occasional random tradition, the kind only the individual family understands.
“I make my mom make orange jello every Thanksgiving,” Emilee Smith, freshman animal sciences and industry, said. “She puts mandarin oranges in, and it is divine.”
Iraq native Saad Ahmad, instructor in Arabic, experienced his first Thanksgiving about 30 years ago.
“When we came to the States in 1982 to work on my Ph.D., my supervisor invited us to join his family on Thanksgiving of that year,” Ahmad said. “We used to think in Iraq that family ties are weak in the American culture, but on Thanksgiving of 1982, we realized we were wrong on that. My supervisor’s sons and daughters came from all over California and Missouri.”
In the following years, Ahmad was busy in school and had two children. He said his children were the driving force for Ahmad and his wife to start celebrating American events such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July and, of course, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“The first time we had our own Thanksgiving was in 1989 when we moved from Jardine to Prairie Glen Townhouses and we’ve celebrated it every year ever since,” Ahmad said. “We kept celebrating Thanksgiving, and the kids were happy and they made us happy.”