The Thanksgiving tradition originated in 1621, after the governor of Plymouth (part of the current state of Massachusetts), William Bradford, dedicated to God a day of celebration and gratitude for the good harvest obtained in autumn, thus gathering the settlers with the Wampanoag natives, who shared turkeys, lobsters, geese, corn, pumpkins, and dried fruits for three consecutive days.
But drought did not allow this celebration to take place annually, until 1789, after an agreement presented by President George Washington in Congress, which established a national day to celebrate this ancient tradition and to thank God for his protection, blessing, peace, and prosperity.
For the next six years, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different dates, until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as the National Day of Thanksgiving.
Since then, Thanksgiving Day has remained one of the most special American traditions of the year, when families, friends and loved ones gather at a large dinner and attend Mass to thank God in prayer and joy for the blessings received.
Although no Spanish-speaking country celebrates Thanksgiving Day, Hispanics living in the United States do celebrate it, many even mixing the American tradition with customs from their countries and attending Mass to give thanks for their blessings.
For people like Guadalupe Salas, who is originally from Mexico but has been living in the United States for 22 years, the most important thing is to thank God by attending Mass. “While I thank God every day for my health and the health of my family, and for having food on our table and a place where I can live. Thanksgiving is even more special, so my family and I go to Mass to thank God for everything He has given to us, for each of His blessings. Attending Mass is the best way to show our gratitude,” says Salas.
Eating turkey is another Thanksgiving dinner tradition, but where did that tradition come from?
It is said that the Wampanoag natives brought a turkey to share with the Plymouth settlers at the first dinner. And it is from that belief that the President of the United States performs the Annual Pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey, and turkey is the main dish of this holiday.
Hispanics living in the United States continue with this tradition, although there are others who prefer to change the turkey for a roast suckling pig or roast pork – something more typical of Caribbean countries – many Mexicans prefer to celebrate with tamales, Argentinians or Uruguayans with BBQ, and others even with fish or seafood-based options.
For Natalia Ramos, born in Argentina, but living in the United States for 14 years, “It’s not the type of food that matters, but having food on her table. “We have been through difficult times, so I thank God for having food. And I thank God not only at Thanksgiving, but every day by saying a prayer with my family before every meal.”
Giving to Those in Need
There are also those who dedicate days prior to Thanksgiving, or on that same day, to donate or distribute food to those in need.
An example of this is the group of volunteers from Catholic Charities that will meet on November 18 at St. Joseph of the Holy Family Church to distribute Thanksgiving Turkeys to those in need.
On November 19th, the World Day of the Poor, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York will celebrate a special Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to commemorate the array of services that are provided by the Federation of Agencies to poor and vulnerable New Yorkers. Cardinal Dolan is expected to meet with families, volunteers, donors, and staff at the Cathedral. After Mass, the Cardinal will bless food that will be distributed for Thanksgiving outside St. Patrick’s.
Additionally, on November 20 and November 23, Catholic Charities, will serve Thanksgiving meals through Day Laborer Center in Yonkers and at La Plaza Beacon School in Washington Heights. Through its Alianza division, many migrant student clients and their families will receive their first Thanksgiving meal at this event.
On November 21, Catholic Charities will hold its annual tradition of providing 1,000 turkeys at the Kennedy Center in Harlem starting at 9am to clients and pantry programs throughout the city, such as St. Cecilia and St. Augustine.
On November 23, all Masses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral will celebrate Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving Day Prayer
Oh, Gracious God, we give You thanks for Your overflowing generosity to us.
Thank You for the blessings of the food we eat and especially for this feast today.
Thank You for our home and family and friends, especially for the presence of those gathered here.
Thank You for our health, our work, and our play.
Please send help to those who are hungry, alone, sick, and suffering with war and violence.
Open our hearts to Your love.
We ask Your blessing through Christ, Your Son, Amen.