Thanksgiving: A Uniquely American Holiday

By  //  November 24, 2016

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Thanksgiving became a national holiday when Sarah Josepha Hale, a 19th-century magazine editor, led a successful nationwide campaign.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday when Sarah Josepha Hale, a 19th-century magazine editor, led a successful nationwide campaign.

THE DAILY SIGNAL — Just about every country has a national day, a holiday when citizens stop to honor their constitution, celebrate a monarch’s birthday, recall the day their nation was liberated from colonial rule, or otherwise pay tribute to their country’s origins. The United States isn’t unique in celebrating a day of independence.

But Thanksgiving is something else. Only a few countries set aside a day of national thanksgiving. Most of these holidays trace their origins back to a time when life beat to the rhythm of the agricultural cycle.

Koreans celebrate the harvest festival of Chuseok with family gatherings and visits to their ancestral homes. Similarly, China’s Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival is a modernized version of long-ago harvest celebrations. Germany has Erntedankfest, when churches are decorated with symbols of the harvest.


Iconic American artist Norman Rockwell depicts the American family at the Thanksgiving feast.

The first thanksgivings in Canada were religious ceremonies celebrated by English and French explorers, but the modern Canadian Thanksgiving Day owes a debt to the American Loyalists who carried the New England custom with them when they fled to Nova Scotia at the time of the Revolutionary War.

Brazil’s Thanksgiving Day, which debuted in 1949, was the brainchild of that country’s ambassador to the United States, who admired the American holiday. These and other thanksgivings are joyous occasions, but they say little about what it means to be Korean or Chinese, German, Canadian, or Brazilian.

In contrast, the American Thanksgiving is far more than an update of an ancient harvest festival. Thanksgiving has grown up with the country. It reflects our national identity as a grateful, generous, and inclusive people.

When a 21st-century American takes his place at the Thanksgiving table or volunteers at a local food bank, he is part of a continuum that dates back to 1621, when the Pilgrims and the Indians shared their famous three-day feast.

CLICK HERE to read the complete story on of how Thanksgiving became a national holiday, a classic American saga of how one enterprising, hardworking individual with a good idea can have a profound impact in an open, democratic society. 

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