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Past vs. Present: Thanksgiving

Yuvansh Bahri ’27
How have Thanksgiving traditions changed over the years?

This Thanksgiving, Edison High students spent time with loved ones and ate a variety of different foods. However, this has not always been the case throughout the history of the holiday. As we turn back the pages of time, we can see that the popular celebration’s origins date back to over 400 years ago. Let’s take a look at the past to discover the history of Thanksgiving, and see how Edison High students celebrate the holiday in the present.

In the 1700s, many set aside Thanksgiving as a day for fasting and praying. These traditions have evolved drastically, as present-day Thanksgiving is headlined by large feasts, exuberant professional sports games, and colorful parades.

Thanksgiving’s roots point back to a 1621 celebration between Pilgrims and Native Americans. At the time, relations between the Native American (Wampanoag) people and Pilgrims were friendly due to the assistance—in areas such as harvesting—that the Wampanoag people provided to the Pilgrims. To celebrate a successful harvest in Plymouth, both groups got together for a feast on the fourth Thursday of November. Still, the first official “Thanksgiving” was in June 1671, in Charlestown, Massachusetts, which was much unlike the contemporary November tradition we know today.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison all set aside days for national gratitude. In addition, Sarah Josepha Hale, famed for the children’s nursery song “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” dedicated over three decades to campaigning for Thanksgiving’s acceptance as a national holiday, which earned her the nickname “The Mother of Thanksgiving.” Despite Thanksgiving’s popularity in the early 1800s, it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln’s declaration in 1863 that the celebration became a federal holiday. Lincoln aimed to foster unity and gratitude after the Gettysburg victory, recognizing Thanksgiving as a peaceful pause amid turmoil.

Over the years, Thanksgiving has grown to become one of the most popular events in the United States. This popularity is partly due to the holiday’s themes: family and gratitude. In the 1700s, many set aside Thanksgiving as a day for fasting and praying. These traditions have evolved drastically, as present-day Thanksgiving is headlined by large feasts, exuberant professional sports games, and colorful parades.

Let’s take a look at how the students of Edison High celebrate Thanksgiving with their friends and family.

“Most of my family, from my cousins to uncles and aunts to grandparents, all come over to my house for us to spend time together,” explained Kevin Walsh ‘27. “We have a huge feast consisting mostly of turkey.”

Having a feast is a common tradition for most families across the country, many of which enjoy having large gatherings and eating foods like turkey, mashed potatoes, and squash. A majority of Edison High students mentioned that they participated in large family gatherings with such “common” Thanksgiving food. Some students travel to other parts of the country for this joyous occasion, while others spend time at home with their family.

“I celebrate Thanksgiving by going to Pennsylvania to visit my family members,” said Jacob Badilla ‘25. “Even though we don’t get to see them every year, I am still grateful for all the times that I’ve spent Thanksgiving with them.”

Some students at Edison High also said that they enjoy watching and playing sports with their families during Thanksgiving.

“I go to one of my family member’s house in Delaware,” described Karina Haldawar ‘25. “We watch football and play football outside. During the meal, we say what we’re thankful for and after that, we eat food like turkey.”

Alongside the feasts and gatherings, football is an integral part of Thanksgiving for most Americans. The three primetime games broadcast on national television are among the most watched games of the regular season. Some of the biggest college football powerhouses also play on Thanksgiving.

Many students from immigrant families at Edison High tend to integrate their own traditions with “traditional” Thanksgiving practices to celebrate the day.

“I usually go to Wisconsin to visit my grandparents,” explained Sameth Sitaram ‘27. “There, I eat dal and potato curry for lunch and naan with Paneer Butter Masala for dinner for the Thanksgiving feast.”

Similarly, many South Asian students at Edison High have Thanksgiving feasts with their families in a traditional manner. However, these feasts don’t consist of turkey or gravy—rather, they consist of some of the most famous South Asian foods.

It is clear that Thanksgiving has had a lasting impact on American culture. What started as a feast of gratitude between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims has evolved into a celebration filled with football, travel, and parades. A day of fasting and prayers has become a day of gatherings and feasts. Even with all this change, one central theme still remains: spending time giving appreciation to those you care about.

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About the Contributors
KAVAN MALAVIYA '27, Staff Writer
Kavan Malaviya is a freshman staff writer for "The Eagle's Eye." Outside of school, he enjoys playing the flute and alto saxophone, reading, and playing sports.
ESHAN JHAVERI '27, Staff Writer
Eshan Jhaveri is a freshman working as a Staff Writer for The Eagle's Eye. When he is not writing, Eshan enjoys playing the piano and engineering. He also enjoys running long distance and is a runner on the esteemed Edison High School cross country team.
Yashasvi Kompella is a staff writer for the "Eagle's Eye" and is a current freshman. Yashasvi is a member of the STEM Academy and enjoys participating in a wide variety clubs, such as Quiz Bowl and MUN. Yashasvi also likes playing the viola and volunteering in his free time.
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