It is common thought that “Thanksgiving” is an American tradition when in fact it has been around for thousands of years and is celebrated by many cultures. The first Pilgrims/Puritans who were of Celtic heritage, brought traditions with them to America.
Before coming to the “New World”, English settlers were accustomed to celebrating thanksgiving feasts near the end of September. It is generally believed that the Pilgrim’s first “Thanksgiving” which was more of a harvest festival, took place in October.
Mabon is both the new and the old name for the Celtic thanksgiving festival. There were three harvest festivals in the Celtic culture, celebrating the first harvest in August, second harvest in September, and final harvest in October. Mabon was and is the second harvest as well as a equinox festival, taking place around the autumnal equinox in September. Mabon is also known as the apple harvest, and apples play a big part in the celebration. Our modern traditions are reminiscent of the ancient festivals of the Second Harvest. This is the Pagan Thanksgiving: a time of reflection, sharing, balance, and celebration of the bounty of life.
Harvest is from the Old English word hærfest, meaning “autumn”. It then came to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other grown products. The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon. So in ancient traditions Harvest Festivals were traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon.
Another custom that takes place in the British Isles rather later in history is Lammas Day.
From the Old English hlaf, “loaf,” and maesse, “mass” or “feast,” Lammas is very old indeed. It derives from the ancient English festival the Gule of August, which marked the beginning of the harvest, traditionally August 1. The early English church kept this pagan dedication of the first fruits but converted it to Christian usage. Through the centuries, “loaf-mass” became corrupted in spelling and pronunciation to Lammas. On Lammas Day, loaves of bread were baked from the first-ripened grain and brought to the churches to be consecrated. To the Celts, this was Lughnasaid, the feast of the wedding of the Sun god and the Earth goddess, and also a harvest festival. In Ireland, baskets of blueberries are still offered to a sweetheart in commemoration of the original fertility festival. In Scotland, the Lammastide fairs became famous for trial marriages that could be ended without question after a year.
There were many days set aside in the new world for giving thanks but the most well known comes from the writings of Edward Winslow who had come to the colonies on the Mayflower. The Mayflower had a rough sea to sail, similar to “The Perfect Storm”. The Puritans spent the winter on the boat, in port, with only half surviving. It is noted that they would not have made it without the help of an English speaking Native American, Squanto, who helped the settlers form an alliance with the Wampanoags. The Native Americans did teach the settlers the lay of the land and what to plant and where. When the harvest time came, the settlers did honor the Wampanoags with a three day feast. It is recorded that the Native Americans did bring 5 deer to the party.
The food was not what we have today. No pies or pastry as there was no sugar or flour. They did have Turkey, cranberries, sea food and several varities of Indian corn.
The first Thanksgiving Day celebrated under the new Constitution took place on November 26, 1789.
In 1863, President Lincoln began the modern tradition of observing Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.
President Roosevelt in 1941 signed a resolution making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of the month of November a Federal Holiday.
We hope you enjoyed this little bit of history regarding Thanksgiving. It is hoped you will have a wonderful Holiday. We are indeed thankful for all of our readers and listeners and the support you give us!
La Altaithe Shona Duit
Celtic Music Magazine is changing the way you hear Celtic Music.