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Thanksgiving: Traditions and Changes

Turkey, football, and family — the traditional picture of an American Thanksgiving. However, Thanksgiving hasn’t always looked like this. Traditions and values have evolved throughout the course of its existence, dating all the way back to the very first Thanksgiving in 1621.

The Origins

In mid-September of 1620, 102 English Pilgrims embarked on a two month journey for religious freedom and landed in the place we now call Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. After a devastating first winter in the New World, the surviving pilgrims were left ill stricken and starving. The remainder of the Mayflower’s crew would have perished if not for the kindness of the Native Americans tribe, the Wampanoag. The Wampanoag instructed the pilgrims how to survive  in their new  home– from growing corn, to fishing in the rivers, and even to avoiding potentially dangerous wildlife. The pilgrims were saved.

In celebration of the Pilgrim’s first successful corn crop, a three day feast and festival was held. This grand feast did not have a documented menu, but it is to be believed that the feast consisted of dear, lobster, seal, fish, and even swan. With little sugar remaining and no ovens to be heard of, there were no pies or pastries that are customary in modern day Thanksgiving feasts.

Throughout American history, many different presidents have issued their own days designated to giving thanks, but the official holiday ruling wasn’t made until 1863. Following the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln deemed the final thursday of every November as a day for every American to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”


As the times changed, so did the Thanksgiving cuisine. Swan became turkey, deer became glazed ham, and lobster became pumpkin pie. The tradition of copious feasting continues to this day, but the holiday’s meaning has diverted significantly from Lincoln’s original call to “heal the wounds of the nation.” Over time, Thanksgiving became a family based holiday about appreciating what you have, and of course, feasting.

“Turkey and family… yeah that’s pretty much my Thanksgiving,” said Maximus Buico, a Leesville sophomore. This became the precedent for the average American’s Thanksgiving.

In addition to family and food, parades have become a staple of Thanksgiving festivities–be it the local downtown parade or the massively commercialized Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, you’d be hard pressed to find an American household without a parade on TV Thanksgiving morning. Another major television tradition is Thanksgiving football. After you’ve stuffed yourself past the point of no return, the entire family can gather around the living room to watch in a near comatose state some football.

Thanksgiving became the one day of the year in which American values of family and freedom are celebrated. It was appreciating everything and everyone you have, and gathering with those you love to give thanks. But what has it become today?


In the last decade, the life of every American has drastically changed. The age of social media, smartphones, and advanced technology has swept across the nation. Our country’s morals, values, and way of life has been altered so severely that we are nearly unrecognizable to our old self. This colossal character shift begs the question: Is Thanksgiving still relevant in the modern era?

“[Thanksgiving] is not really relevant anymore,” said Buico. “I mean, there’s family and we say thanks, but we’re all really there for the food.” It seems that many families are aware of the values Thanksgiving is meant to represent, but exercise them more as a formality. This mindset has become commonplace amongst the American people nowadays.

For many families, keeping in touch is easier than ever before. With an easy means of contact, holidays based on family have become almost obsolete. Modern family values have become digitized and giving thanks may seem like more of a chore than a special holiday. Our facebook “friends” have become our family and Apple’s rules and regulation have become our values.

Some, however, would argue that Thanksgiving is a living holiday — it is designed to evolve. By nature, Thanksgiving is what the American people make of it.

“I’m not sure if the exact meaning has stayed the same…but either way, it’s a nice time off to spend time with friends and bond with family,” said Justin Hickland, a sophomore at Leesville. Families like Hickland’s would argue that Thanksgiving is only as relevant as its participants make it, and that as long as you’re spending time with the people you love the holiday will always be special in the hearts of Americans.

Regardless of your opinion, Thanksgiving remains alive and well. The American people built the holiday, and despite the enumerable changes it has undergone, at its core the Holiday remains the same. Thanksgiving is a not simply a symbol of the American people, but also one of love.



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