The Roots of the American Thanksgiving

Theresa Sholy and Maya Neufeld-Wall

The American Thanksgiving season, while still recognized for its namesake, popularly comes with an abundance of food and shopping. However, this holiday season, it is particularly important to delve deeper into the cause behind our celebration. In a world of unceasing dispute, it is imperative we properly observe this holiday, often lost in the shuffle between Halloween and Christmas. Many acknowledge Thanksgiving for its traditional values as a time for gratitude and family. But, as one Nerinx teacher explains, it is so much more.

It is fundamental to first understand the origins behind everyone’s favorite November feast. Ms. Neill, a history teacher, shared that, “Historically, [thanksgiving is] a tradition in every religion. The concept has been around forever,” clarifying that there has always been some form of thanksgiving. She explained the Thanksgiving which Americans celebrate today was instituted by Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the American Civil War. Expanding on this, Ms. Neill noted he wanted to honor and give thanks to God that such a divisive time for the country was coming to an end, so he set the date. Thus, to this day, the American Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November every year.

Not much has changed with how Thanksgiving is presently celebrated. “Aside from the Black Friday thing, the idea is that it’s not the food, it’s the gathering,” Ms. Neill remarked, “It’s the gathering together of families who have nothing to do but give thanks.” This time-honored holiday has managed to keep its original meaning throughout the years. Though it now has such additions as football, big sales, and a focus on kitchen duties, Thanksgiving is still recognized as a time to be grateful, selfless, and welcoming to all.

Even in times of fighting and distress Thanksgiving has remained a constant. Ms. Neill believes, “The thing that’s really cool about it — this is true in WWI, WWII, and definitely Vietnam — they fly in meals for our soldiers. Because people are giving everything… not just their lives, but instead of being here.” The American Thanksgiving holiday serves as a unifying factor for our country. From the beginning of the tradition, no matter the predicament, Thanksgiving has always been a sacred part of the American culture. It is the understanding that one day a year people will come together and give thanks for what they have.

In Ms. Neill’s perspective, capturing the true meaning of Thanksgiving today simply means to welcome. It is her favorite holiday, she revealed, because, “It has nothing to do with a particular religion. Everybody who calls themselves Americans celebrates that day. It belongs to everybody.” She proposed there is a reason why Nerinx has a tradition of the alumni coming back for the Thanksgiving Mass. It is how we, as a Loretto school, can observe one of our core values of community. By welcoming back these graduates, we are able to honor true the Thanksgiving traditions of unity and gratitude.