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Thanksgiving Day is the day to express gratitude to the Almighty. It is observed as an important occasion in countries like America, Canada, Caribbean Islands and Liberia, where this day has been declared as a national holiday. The thanksgiving is essentially for the blessing of a good harvest. The day, however, is observed on different dates in different countries.
Thanksgiving Day is primarily a harvest festival. Such a day is observed in all religions and agricultural societies, as a way of thanking God for the gifts of nature and the blessing of a healthy harvest. This day, as it is observed in present times, is based on the English traditions starting from the Protestant Reformation, combined with the harvest celebrations.
It is believed to have started in the 16th century AD, during the rule of Henry VIII, in the form of religious services. There, however, was a strange reason behind its observance too. Apart from the regular holidays of 52 Sundays, there used to be as many as 95 church holidays too, at that time. People, many of whom were farmers, were ordained to attend church services on all these 147 days, foregoing work and contributing money to the rituals. The reform that took place in 1536 provided relief to the people by reducing the church holidays to 27. However, some Puritans or the Protestants tried to remove all the church holidays and replace them with special occasions that were already being observed as Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving. Here, the Day of Fasting was for seeking divine protection against natural disasters and the Day of Thanksgiving was for seeking special blessings from God for specific events. Such Days of Fasting were held during the 1611 drought, 1613 floods, and 1604 and 1622 plagues; while the Day of Thanksgiving was observed to celebrate the English victory against the Spanish Armada in 1588.
However, the Thanksgiving Day has a slightly different origin in the American continent. It is believed to have started in Plymouth in the state of Massachusetts in 1621. It was the Pilgrim Fathers, the earliest European settlers of America and the English Protestants who carried their traditions to their new land and continued it as a Thanksgiving religious feast. It was essentially a form of expressing gratitude to the Almighty for bringing their ships safely to the shores of the new land and hence, the day of their landing on American soil began to be celebrated as the Thanksgiving Day. This day gradually grew in importance and obtained official sanction, when George Washington, the first President of America, declared the first nationwide Thanksgiving celebrations on 26th of November, 1789, as an occasion of expressing public gratitude to God and offering prayers to him. This day continues to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November and remains as a national holiday.
The history of this day is also somewhat similar in Canada. This is believed to have been begun by the French settlers in the 17th century, as a form of celebration of good harvest. These celebrations got enriched by the other European immigrants like Scottish, Irish and Germans, who added their own traditions and practices and made the day more colorful. The Canadian Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October.
This day involves prayers, feasts, and charity. Thanksgiving Day services are held in churches and are attended by a large number of people, who sing the praise of the Almighty and express their gratitude to him. Food is donated generously to the poor and hungry, at places of worship and many locations. Grand, Thanksgiving Day parades are also held in many cities in America, in which thousands of people participate enthusiastically.