The story of the first Thanksgiving Day is one every elementary school-aged child knows. In the early 17th century, the Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution in their native England, first settled in Holland before deciding to continue the journey across the Atlantic Ocean onboard the Mayflower. The journey took 65 grueling days before the group landed late in the year at Plymouth Rock, in what is now Massachusetts.

The Pilgrims endured a horrible first winter in America, with many of their members succumbing to both the cold and to a lack of food. The next spring, the Pilgrims were befriended by a member of the Abnaki tribe, Samoset. Later, they were introduced to another member of that tribe, Squanto. Squanto taught the Pilgrims many of the things they needed to survive in the new world, including how to plant a staple crop – corn. The harvest during the fall was so bountiful, the Pilgrims’ Gov. William Bradford declared a day of thanksgiving. Squanto and 90 members of his tribe attended the event, which turned into a three-day celebration. It is believed this celebration took place in mid-October of 1621.

It was during the third year, however, when Gov. Bradford proclaimed Nov. 29 as a day of Thanksgiving. It is this third-year celebration that is considered the first celebration of Thanksgiving Day.

The custom continued throughout the years as a special day in the late fall to celebrate the harvest in a mostly rural America. In 1817, New York state adopted Thanksgiving as an annual holiday. In 1863, in the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation designating the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday – Thanksgiving Day.

We wish all of our readers a happy Thanksgiving Day, and offer the thoughts of others on what this special day means.