Traditionally, this holiday celebrates the giving of thanks for the autumn harvest.
The custom of giving thanks for the annual harvest is one of the world's oldest celebrations and can be traced back to the dawn of civilization.
However, it is not commonly a major modern event and arguably the success of the American holiday has been due to it being seen as a time to give 'thanks' for the foundation of the nation and not just as a celebration of the harvest.
The American tradition of Thanksgiving dates back to 1621 when the pilgrims gave thanks for their first bountiful harvest in Plymouth Rock. The settlers had arrived in November 1620, founding the first permanent English settlement in the New England region.
This first Thanksgiving was celebrated for three days, with the settlers feasting with the natives on dried fruits, boiled pumpkin, turkey, venison and much more.
The celebration, however, was not repeated until many years later, when in 1789 George Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving to be a national holiday on Thursday November 26th that year - setting the precedent of the last Thursday in November. Despite this, the holiday was celebrated on different days from state to state and Thomas Jefferson later did away with the holiday.
Thanksgiving didn't become a nationwide holiday until President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863. Every year following, the President proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving was switched from the final Thursday in November to the next-to-last Thursday in November by President Roosevelt in 1939 as he wanted to create a longer Christmas shopping period to simulate the economy which was still recovering after the Great Depression.
This caused widespread confusion with many states ignoring the change until Congress sanctioned the fourth Thursday in November as a legal holiday in 1941.
The holiday has evolved into what Americans now know as Thanksgiving. It is a day to gather with loved ones, celebrate, give thanks for many blessings and, of course, eat. The traditional American Thanksgiving meal includes turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams, and pumpkin pie. The meal stems from that eaten by the pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving.
Another American Thanksgiving tradition is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Parade began, even before Thanksgiving was a legal holiday, in 1924. That year Macy’s employees marched through New York City from 145th St. down to 35th St. The employees dressed as clowns, cowboys, and knights marching next to professional floats, live bands, and 25 live animals that were borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. A quarter of a million people were in the audience; the parade was a success! It became an annual event - people travelled to New York City to be a part of the tradition.
After a three-year hiatus during World War II, the parade picked back up in 1945 nationally televised, so that all of America could participate, making the parade an integral part of the American Thanksgiving holiday tradition.