The modern Thanksgiving celebration in the United States originated with Lammas, a British celebration of an abundant wheat crop. On this day, farmers attended the Loaf Mass and brought loaves of bread as a token of thanks.
The first recorded observance of Thanksgiving in America was a religious occasion that did not include the feast now associated with the holiday. On December 4, 1619, a small group of English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia. In accordance with their charter, the group observed this day by giving thanks to God.
Two years later, the residents of Plymouth rejoiced in an abundant crop and Governor William Bradford proclaimed a three day harvest festival. The colonists and about 90 Indians enjoyed an enormous feast which included ducks, geese, turkey, fish, corn bread and vegetables. It is this particular feast that is usually referred to as the First Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving celebrations were observed irregularly in the years after 1621. However, by 1789, the Thanksgiving custom had spread throughout the colonies and, in that year, George Washington proclaimed November 26 as a "day of public thanksgiving and prayer." Washington's proclamation still did not lead to a regular national observance although many states did celebrate Thanksgiving on an annual basis.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation which invited Americans to "observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens." Such proclamations were repeated by the President of the United States for the next 75 years. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday in November. His goal was to help merchants by lengthening the Christmas shopping season. Many Kansans were unhappy with Roosevelt's break from tradition but the move was soon made permanent by Congress.
A typical Thanksgiving meal in the United States includes turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and rolls.