THE AMERICAN HOLIDAY OF THANKSGIVING certainly has its roots in the Jewish tradition of giving thanks to God, and many historians believe that the early “Pilgrims” (members of a larger “Puritan” group) derived the idea directly from the Biblical festival of Sukkot (i.e., “Tabernacles”). According to scholars, before coming to the New World, the Pilgrims lived for a decade among the Sephardic Jews in Holland, since Holland was considered a safe haven from religious persecution at the time. Since the Pilgrims were devout Calvinists and Puritans, their religious idealism led them to regard themselves as “New Israel,” and it is likely that they learned that Sukkot commemorated Israel’s deliverance from their religious persecution in ancient Egypt at that time. [This connection with being the “New Israel” explains the popular biblical names of the Pilgrims/Puritans such as Abigail, Ebenezer, Ezekiel, Ezra, Miriam, etc.]
After they emigrated to the “Promised Land” of America, it is not surprising that the pilgrims may have chosen the festival of Sukkot as the paradigm for their own celebration. The highly religious pilgrims regarded their perilous journey to the new world as a form of “Exodus” and therefore sought the appropriate Biblical holiday to commemorate their safe arrival in a land full of new promise…
After their lengthy pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the ancient Israelites lived for a week in temporary huts while giving thanks for a plentiful harvest. Likewise, during their first winter in Massachusetts, the pilgrims dwelled in makeshift huts, wigwams that the Wampanoag Indians helped them build.
While Sukkot remains a seven-day observance, the first Thanksgiving celebration continued for three days, a time frame more similar to the Jewish harvest festival than today’s Thanksgiving dinner, which often begins in late afternoon and ends several hours later. However, with its pumpkin pies and cranberry garlands, Thanksgiving mirrors many of Sukkot’s customs and culinary themes.
Here’s a slideshow that addresses the relationship between Sukkot and Thanksgiving.