Dates for assembly

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Originally a harvest celebration, the American Thanksgiving is now a family celebration rivalling Christmas in significance.

Outline script for assembly leaders

Parades take place in town and city centres. Many of those joining in wear fancy dress. There are often huge inflatable balloons in the shape of Sonic the Hedgehog, Dino the Dinosaur and the Simpsons. High school bands play and Santa Claus rides on a truck. It is also a time for games of American football, though these are now often played on the Saturday of what has become a long weekend for family reunions.

It originated in 1620 when a group of English settlers crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth, New England. A harsh winter claimed many lives but, by the next summer, a good harvest was in prospect and the pilgrims held a three-day celebration, feeding on turkeys, geese, ducks and deer. Other settlements in the area began to hold similar thanksgivings.

During the American War of Independence (1775-1783), General George Washington ordered eight days to be marked as days of thanksgiving for victories over the British. In 1789, when he had become the first US president, he named November 26 as a day of national thanksgiving. States continued to hold thanksgiving celebrations on varying dates until, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln ordered that the last Thursday in November should be a national day of Thanksgiving.

Special services are held in churches, synagogues and other places of worship but the main event is the family meal which contains many reminders of the early harvest thanksgivings: turkey, sweet potato, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

Although the original Pilgrim Fathers were Christian, Thanksgiving now reflects multi-faith and secular aspects of American society.

Follow-up

Make a seasonal table centrepiece, using nuts, fir cones, fruit and autumnal leaves cut from coloured card or paper.

Copy an American school custom of cutting out a large paper turkey with each child writing on it something for which they are thankful.

There is a profusion of Thanksgiving information and activities at www.holidays.netthanksgivingnbsp;while an English site offers project ideas on the first Thanksgiving at http:teacher.scholastic.comthanksgiving.

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