Thanksgiving Day {Holiday Helps}

President George Washington declared a day of “PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness” in 1789, creating the first national day of Thanksgiving.

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to prepare their houses for the winter, being well recovered in health and strength, and plentifully provisioned; for while some had been thus employed in affairs away from home, others were occupied in fishing for cod, bass, and other fish, of which they caught a good quantity, every family having their portion. All the summer there was no want. And now, as winter approached, wild fowl began to arrive, of which there were plenty when they came here first, though afterwards they became more scarce. As well as wild fowl, they got abundance of wild turkeys, besides venison, etc. Each person had about a peck of meal a week, or now, since harvest, Indian corn in that proportion; and afterwards many wrote at length about their plenty to their friends in England, — not feigned but true reports.

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation: Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement 1608–1650

And so began a tradition in America of giving thanks for the blessings God has so richly bestowed upon us.

It was a letter from Sarah J. Hale, editor of Ladies’ Magazine, that is credited with helping establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Her letter to President Abraham Lincoln led to his 1863 proclamation establishing the last Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving holiday. The official date was later moved to the fourth Thursday in November as a compromise between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress, Roosevelt preferring the fourth Thursday to provide more time for holiday shopping.

Further Investigation

Primary Sources for the “First Thanksgiving” at Plymouth
Read what really happened. Free download at the Pilgrim Hall Museum includes a list of those in attendance.

General Thanksgiving Proclamation
The text of President George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation of 1789.

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
The tradition of issuing Thanksgiving Day proclamations has continued. President George W. Bush declared Thursday, November 22, 2001, a National Day of Thanksgiving — a particularly heartfelt proclamation following the events of September 11.

Bet You Didn’t Know: Thanksgiving
Great video from the History Channel that helps students understand how the tradition started and changed. (You may want to install an ad blocker before viewing.)


You Are There: The Sailing of the Mayflower
Originally aired in 1947 and was narrated by CBS news reporter John Daly. The You Are There series of radio broadcasts were dramatizations of historical events presented as live radio coverage.

Thanksgiving Interactive: You are the Historian
Interactive from Plimoth Plantation that helps students learn what really happened. Includes a helpful Teacher’s Guide.

The Pilgrims’ Voyage: Map and the Mayflower
Fun and educational craft at

Papercraft Model of the Mayflower
Free download from EduPlace that students can color, assemble, and glue.

Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement
Free audio version from LibriVox.

Ours to Fight For — Freedom from Want
In 1943, a series of Norman Rockwell paintings based on President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech was published in the Saturday Evening Post. One of those shows a family Thanksgiving like only Rockwell could portray. The paintings went on tour around the country raising money for war bonds.

Thanksgiving Hymns
Music appropriate to the season from

Thanksgiving Place Mat
Make a beautiful place mat courtesy of Jan Brett!

Turkey Cookies
Anyone who knows me understands why this has such appeal. Fun edible craft for the young ones!

Holiday Fun Activity: Pumpkin Pie in a Cup
Simple and fun.

Holiday Fun Activity: 25 DIY Thanksgiving Treats
And if those are not enough, here are 25 more intriguing treats!

Thankful Tree DIY Centerpiece
A beautiful centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table that all can appreciate.

6 Favorite Thanksgiving Read-Aloud Books

6 Favorite Thanksgiving Read-Aloud Books
Our own favorites!

“Thanksgiving” by Henry Coyle
Many will recognize this Thanksgiving poem.

Boys and Girls of Colonial Days {Free eBook}
By the author of Miss Hickory.

Stories of the Pilgrims

Stories of the Pilgrims by Margaret B. Pumphrey
Stories of the Pilgrims’ journey beginning with the persecution they faced in Scrooby, England, to their journey to Holland and their adjustment to a new culture, to their voyage across the ocean to the shores of America where eventually a Thanksgiving would be celebrated — told in a way that is interesting to young readers.

Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims

Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla
Family favorite by a favorite author that tells the story of the Indian who befriended the Pilgrims.

7 Thanksgiving Stories {Free}
Heartwarming stories by well-known authors in the public domain.

The Children’s Book of Thanksgiving Stories
Public domain collection of 31 stories with something for everyone.

Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember

Thanksgiving: A Time To Remember by Barbara Rainey
Beautiful, warm book for celebrating the holiday. Read our full review.

The Pilgrim Story {Free eBook}
Written in timeline form, draws from the journals of William Bradford and Edward Winslow to recreate the story of the pilgrims from their time in Scrooby to events shortly following the death of Bradford in 1643. Woodcut illustrations make the book more accessible for those not quite ready for primary source documents.

Our American Holidays: Thanksgiving {Free eBook}
Wonderful collection of poems, essay, plays, and stories all about Thanksgiving.

Official Pilgrim Guide Book to Plymouth ~ Free eBook
Maps, photos, the Mayflower, and more!

A Guide to Historic Plymouth {Free eBook}
Take a virtual tour.

Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement
For older students.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Thanksgiving Primary Source Teacher Guide {Free}
A great way to learn about Thanksgiving through primary source documents at the Library of Congress.

William Bradford: The Pen & the Person
Excellent lesson plan for older students from Pilgrim Hall Museum.

Give Thanks! A Unit Study About Gratefulness
Free unit study covering Bible, history and geography, language arts, music, and art.

Pilgrims-Thanksgiving Unit
A study from Cindy Downes that includes many links, book selections, hands-on activities, and more.

Teaching Thankfulness
Eleven different ways to engage at Focus on the Family.

Thanksgiving Unit Study
Unit study from the Lacelle family covering the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, Plymouth, and Native Americans that includes crafts, music, writing prompts, mapping activities, food, and fun! Lots of recommended resources.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Turkey Coloring Book Page
Anatomy with labels for notebook.

Thanksgiving Bible Mini Book

Thanksgiving Mini Book

3 Disney Thanksgiving Printables {Free}

3 Disney Thanksgiving Printables {Free}
Thanksgiving fun from Disney.

Thanksgiving “Draw the Details” Coloring Pages
Fun pages for young ones at

Thanksgiving Place Cards
Printable from HGTV where students can fill in the guests’ names.

Holiday Helps: Free Holiday Unit Studies
Holiday Helps {Free Holiday Unit Studies}
Holiday Helps

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