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Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated on various dates in the United States, Canada, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Liberia. It began as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Similarly named festival holidays occur in Germany and Japan. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and around the same part of the year in other places. Although Thanksgiving has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, it has long been celebrated as a secular holiday as well.
The annual Thanksgiving holiday tradition in the United States is documented at its earliest in 1619, in what is now the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thirty-eight English settlers aboard the ship Margaret arrived at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia on December 4, 1619. The landing concluded with a religious celebration specifically dictated by the group's charter from the London Company. The charter declared "that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned ... in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."
The more familiar Thanksgiving precedent is traced to the Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s. They brought their previous tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. The 1621 Plymouth, Massachusetts thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. The Pilgrims celebrated this with the Wampanoags, a tribe of Native Americans who, along with the last surviving Patuxet, had helped them get through the previous winter by giving them food in that time of scarcity, in exchange for an alliance and protection against the rival Narragansett tribe.
Several days of Thanksgiving were held in early New England history that have been identified as the "First Thanksgiving", including Pilgrim holidays in Plymouth in 1621 and 1623, and a Puritan holiday in Boston in 1631. According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of Thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden. Now called Oktober Feest, Leiden's autumn thanksgiving celebration in 1617 was the occasion for sectarian disturbance that appears to have accelerated the pilgrims' plans to emigrate to America.
Later in Massachusetts, religious thanksgiving services were declared by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford, who planned the colony's thanksgiving celebration and feast in 1623. Bradford issued a proclamation of Thanksgiving following victory in the Pequot War in the late 1630s to celebrate "the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won."The practice of holding an annual harvest festival did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.