Thanksgiving and the Immigrant Story

Painting of a number of people, English Pilgrims and Native Americans feasting together. One man is standing with his hands together in prayer
The First Thanksgiving in Plymouth by By Jennie A. Brownscombe

Thanksgiving is an annual festive tradition celebrated in North America; in Canada on the second Sunday of October and in the US on the last Thursday of November.  It is celebrated by people of all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, without doubt including our Irish kin who have made their new home across the Atlantic.  Its origins, much like American history is wrapped up in the subject of emigration.

Thanksgiving has its roots in England, during the English reformation. The 1536 reforms, which sought to break away from the authority of the catholic church, saw it as necessary to cut down the number of feast days.  Those of a more radical persuasion wished to cut them out completely and to simply have days of thanksgiving (for good fortune etc.) and days of fasting (for hardships etc.).  While their ideas did not take hold completely, the days of thanksgiving were adopted.  

The custom was carried to America in the 1620s and 30s by English emigrants.  Despite being a subject of debate, traditionally the first Thanksgiving was held in the Plymouth colony of Massachusetts in 1621 in thanks for a good harvest.  A feast was shared between the English Pilgrims and the Native American Wampanoag tribe who had donated food to the early colonists when supplies were short during their first winter.

Eventually Thanksgiving became a yearly feast that, despite its Christian connotations and origins, is now largely secular.  The feast itself is based around a traditional turkey dinner, reminiscent of the original meal at Plymouth.  Today it is celebrated by most Americans, regardless of ethnic origins.  This means that hundreds of thousands Irish, Irish Americans and people of Irish descent gather with their families and friends each year to give thanks and celebrate together.