According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first celebration of Thanksgiving “was held by the Plymouth colony in 1621, in thankfulness for their first harvest in America after a year of struggle and privation, and the usage became general in New England. After the Revolution, it extended to the Middle States, and later to the West; after the Civil War gradually to the South. Its national observance has been annually recommended by the President since 1863.”
Its explicitly religious roots as “a day set apart for public thanksgiving for Divine goodness” remain a core part of the tradition in many households, though in many others is overshadowed by the presentation and consumption of autumnal dishes such as roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, and cranberry sauce. Since 1941, Thanksgiving has been celebrated (by federal mandate) in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November.
Author’s note: The date and definition of each word is only the Oxford English Dictionary’s first known recording of the word’s use (in English). The purpose of this is to showcase how and when different definitions for words developed. I found it surprising that in some cases common modern definitions were not used for hundreds of years after the word’s first use.
For each listed word, I have purposefully left out usages and definitions that I found repetitive or irrelevant. As such, this should not be considered an exhaustive or comprehensive list of word use, past meanings, or etymologies. All definitions, dates, and records of publication are directly taken from the OED.
1555, Origins Juridiciales: A well-known large gallinaceous bird of the Linnæan genus Meleagris, the species of which are all American; esp. M. gallopāvo, which was found domesticated in Mexico at the discovery of that country in 1518, and was soon after introduced into Europe, and is now valued as a table fowl in numerous countries.
1573, Five Hundredth Points Good Husbandry: The flesh of this bird, esp. the domestic turkey, as food.
1824, Little Bit of Tid-Re-I: Speaking allusively, in colloquial or dialect phrases, etc.
1893, Scribner’s Magazine: applied to bundles or hold-alls carried by other itinerant workers, vagrants, etc.
1927, Vanity Fair: An inferior or unsuccessful cinematographic or theatrical production, a flop; hence, anything disappointing or of little value.
1951, H. Wentworth and S.B. Flexner’s Dictionary of American Slang: A stupid, slow, inept, or otherwise worthless person.
HARVEST, verb and noun
Etymology: Old English, hærfest
902, Codex Diplomaticus Aevi Saxonici: The third of the four seasons of the year, the autumn.
c1400, Mandeville’s Travels: To reap and gather in (the corn, or, by extension, other ripe crop).
1888, Pall Mall Gazette: To gather and lay up in store; to ‘reap’, to husband.
1947, Biological Abstracts: To kill or remove (wild animals belonging to a local population) so as to provide food (or other useful product) or sport, or to reduce the population.
1946, Nature: A Weekly Journal: To remove (cells) from a culture made in vitro or in vivo; to remove (cells, tissues, organs, or embryos) from an animal for experimental purposes.
Etymology: Of obscure origin
c1390, Form of Cury: Some kind of dressing used for white meats, fish, and vegetables, which seems to have consisted of broth, milk of almonds, spices, and (usually) wine or ale.
1591, Book Cookrye: The fat and juices which exude from flesh during and after the process of cooking; a dressing for meat or vegetables made from these with the addition of condiments.
1699, London Spy: To be bathed in sweat.
1910, Saturday Evening Post: Money easily acquired; an unearned or unexpected bonus; a tip.
Etymology: Middle English, bunt
c 1250, An Old English Miscellany: An act of generosity, a thing generously bestowed; a boon, gift, gratuity.
1330, Robert Mannyng’s Chronicles: An act of kindness.
c1330, Amis and Amiloun: Warlike prowess, valour.
c1386, Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale: Of persons: goodness in general, worth, virtue.
1400, Cursor Mundi: Goodness shown in giving, munificence: usually attributed to God, or to the wealthy.
1702, Royal Proclamation in the London Gazette: A gratuity given to recruits on joining the army or navy.
1719, A Survey of Trade: A sum of money paid to merchants or manufacturers for the encouragement of some particular branch of industry.
1764, Pennsylvania Archives: A reward offered for the scalp of an American Indian.
1872, Porcupine Magazine: In reference to “King’s or Queen’s bounty”: a sum of money given from the royal purse to a mother who has given birth to three or more children at once.
Etymology: Anglo-Norman, pilegrin
1200, Ancrene Riwle: A person who experiences life as a sojourn, exile, or period of estrangement from such a state.
1225, St. Katherine: A person who makes a journey (usually of a long distance) to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion.
1630, History of Plymouth Plantation: Any of the English Puritans who founded the colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620; (gen.) any of the other early English colonists.
STUFF(ING), noun and verb
Etymology: Old French, estoffer
c1400, Cleanness: To furnish (a fortified town, stronghold, an army, a commander, etc.) with men, munitions, and stores.
1530, John Palsgrave’s Lesclarcissement de la Langue Francoyse : The material with which a receptacle is stuffed or tightly filled.
1538, The Dictionary of Syr Thomas Eliot: Forcemeat or other seasoned mixture used to fill the body of a fowl, a hollow in a joint of meat, etc., before cooking.
1601, The Historie of the World: Obstruction of the throat, nose, or chest by catarrh; the sensation produced by this.
1976, Birmingham Post: The putting of fraudulent votes into a ballot-box.