"Perhaps no custom reveals our character as a nation so clearly as our celebration of Thanksgiving Day," said US president Ronald Reagan in his 1986 Thanksgiving Day proclamation.
The US likes to see Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday with its twee tale of a bunch of buckle-hatted god botherers sitting down to eat with the friendly natives, who provided food and agricultural consultancy for their hungry new arrivals in humbling scenes of peace and harmony.
Whether or not this sickly story is a fair reflection of the events at what is widely considered to be the "first" Thanksgiving in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts (the second best Plymouth in the world) is a matter for academics. But there is are two things of which we are sure: the pilgrims were not American and neither is Thanksgiving.
"Thanksgiving ceremonies were commonplace in old England, and a key part of the 17th-century Protestant calendar," wrote the English historian Malcolm Gaskill, a professor at the University of East Anglia, on Huffington Post. "The Plymouth feast, though, was not termed a thanksgiving, and was more of harvest festival. As such, it's more likely to have taken place in late September, around Michaelmas, than November."
So America has got the name and date wrong. It should be having harvest festivals in September like we still do here in the old country. Harvest celebrations extend further back to pagan times but the modern thanksgiving-style festivals were born in the reformation era, as Protestantism swept across Europe. In England, Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic church in 1534 and put himself at the top of the Church of England, in place of the Pope.
Prior to the reformation, Catholic harvest celebrations took place primarily on "Lammas Day" -- the end of the wheat harvest on 1 August, when loaves were eaten -- and Michaelmas Day on 29 September. "It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming," according to Historic UK. "It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid."
From these evolved the harvest thanksgiving, a culture carried on the Mayflower to the shores of New England by the English Pilgrims. And that is more or less why Americans chow down on an enormous Thanksgiving Day feast toward the end of every November. You're welcome.