four hundred years ago.
In 1620, a boat filled with over a hundred people sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in the New World. These people wanted to separate themselves from the beliefs of the Church of England. They called themselves Pilgrims and settled in what is now known as the state of Massachusetts.
Their first winter in what they described as the New World was difficult. They had arrived too late to grow many crops. Without fresh food, half the colony died from disease. The following spring an Indian tribe taught them how to grow corn (maize), a food that was unknown to them, and other crops. They also showed them how to hunt and fish. In the autumn of 1621, they had good crops of corn, barley, beans and pumpkins were harvested.
The colonists were grateful for their survival and planned a feast. They invited the local Indian chief and 90 Indians. The colonists had turkeys and wild game, and the Indians brought deer to roast. The colonists cooked cranberries and different kinds of corn and squash dishes as the Indians had taught them. The Indians had even brought popcorn to this first Thanksgiving.
Originally, the American Thanksgiving holiday was celebrated on October 3, which makes a lot more sense agriculturally. It was later moved by Franklin Roosevelt in a bid to help post-Depression holiday sales. President George Washington suggested the date of 26th November as Thanksgiving Day. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving.
Most people celebrate Thanksgiving by gathering at home with family or friends for a holiday feast. There is also a tradition to share the fruits of the harvest with those who are less fortunate. Turkey, corn (or maize), pumpkins and cranberry sauce are symbols which represent the first Thanksgiving meal. Nowadays all of these symbols are drawn on holiday decorations and greeting cards. The use of corn symbolizes the survival of the colonies. "Indian corn" as a table or door decoration represents the harvest and the fall season.
Sweet-sour cranberry sauce, or cranberry jelly, was on the first Thanksgiving table and is still served today. The cranberry is a small, sour berry that grows in muddy areas in and around Massachusetts. The Indians used the fruit to treat infections and the juice to dye their rugs and blankets. They taught the colonists how to cook the berries with sweetener and water to make a sauce. The colonists called it a "crane-berry" because the flowers of the berry bent the stalk over, so that it resembled the long-necked bird that is called a crane.
The berries are still grown in New England. Before the berries are put in bags to be sent to the rest of the country, each individual berry must bounce at least four inches high to make sure they are not too ripe.