The History of Thanksgiving in Washington State

From the first recorded celebration in 1838 to today’s cherished traditions, the history of Thanksgiving in Washington state is a tale of gratitude, resilience, and cultural diversity. Discover how this beloved holiday has evolved over time and shaped the lives of Washingtonians.

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Thanksgiving, a beloved American holiday, has a rich and fascinating history in Washington. From its early beginnings as a celebration of gratitude among the first settlers to its modern-day traditions, Thanksgiving in Washington has evolved over the centuries, reflecting the state’s unique culture and heritage.

Early Washington Thanksgiving Celebrations

The first recorded Thanksgiving celebration in what is now Washington state took place on November 29, 1838, at Fort Nisqually, a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post located near present-day Olympia. Dr William Fraser Tolmie, a Scottish physician and the fort’s chief trader, led the celebration.

Tolmie’s diary entry for that day reads, “Fine clear weather. All hands at work as usual. In the evening, the men had a dance in the Hall, it being St. Andrew’s Day, and I gave them a dram.” While this celebration was not an official Thanksgiving, it began a growing tradition.

The first official Thanksgiving celebration in Washington occurred in 1863, following President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation designating the last Thursday of November as a national Thanksgiving day. Washington Territory Governor William Pickering issued a similar declaration, urging citizens to observe the day with “thanksgiving and praise.” However, it wasn’t until Washington achieved statehood in 1889 that Thanksgiving became a regular annual celebration.

Early Thanksgiving celebrations in Washington were often community events, with families gathering together to share a meal and give thanks for the past year’s blessings. These celebrations were significant for the state’s early settlers, who faced numerous challenges and hardships as they worked to establish new communities in the rugged Pacific Northwest.

Washington State Thanksgiving Traditions

As Washington state grew and developed, so did its traditions. Many of these traditions were influenced by the state’s diverse population, which included Native American tribes, European immigrants, and Asian immigrants.

One of Washington’s most notable Thanksgiving traditions is the annual Seattle Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. First held in 1924, the parade features marching bands, floats, and giant helium balloons, attracting thousands of spectators yearly. It has become a beloved Seattle institution and a highlight of the city’s Thanksgiving celebrations.

Another popular Thanksgiving tradition in Washington is the annual Turkey Trot, a fun run or walk on Thanksgiving morning. The first Turkey Trot in Washington was held in Spokane in 1908, and today, Turkey Trots are held in cities and towns throughout the state, attracting runners and walkers of all ages and abilities.

Food also plays a central role in Washington’s Thanksgiving celebrations. Many families enjoy traditional Thanksgiving fare, such as roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. However, Washington’s diverse culinary scene has also influenced Thanksgiving menus, with many families incorporating local ingredients and flavours. For example, some families may serve salmon or other seafood dishes, reflecting the state’s rich maritime heritage.

Washington Thanksgiving Tradition

Native American Influence on Thanksgiving

Native American tribes have played a significant role in shaping Washington’s Thanksgiving traditions. For many tribes, giving thanks is deeply ingrained in their cultural and spiritual practices. The Wampanoag people, who lived in what is now Massachusetts, are credited with helping the Pilgrims survive their first winter in America and participating in the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621.

In Washington state, Native American tribes have unique Thanksgiving traditions. For example, the Suquamish Tribe in western Washington holds an annual Thanksgiving feast with traditional dishes such as clam chowder, salmon, and fried bread. The feast is a time for the tribe to unite and thank God for the past year’s blessings.

Other tribes, such as the Makah and the Quinault, also have Thanksgiving traditions that reflect their cultural heritage and values. These traditions often involve giving thanks for the land and sea bounty and their communities’ strength and resilience.

Modern-Day Thanksgiving Celebrations

Today, Thanksgiving in Washington State is a diverse and vibrant celebration that reflects the state’s rich history and cultural heritage. While many families still gather to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal, others have adapted the holiday to suit their unique traditions and preferences.

For some families, Thanksgiving is a time to volunteer and give back to their communities. Many organizations throughout the state offer opportunities for individuals and families to volunteer on Thanksgiving Day, such as serving meals at homeless shelters or delivering food to those in need.

Other families may spend Thanksgiving outdoors, enjoying Washington’s beautiful natural scenery. Popular activities include hiking, camping, fishing, and visiting local parks and nature reserves.

There has also been a growing interest in sustainable and locally sourced Thanksgiving meals in recent years. Many families and restaurants in Washington now prioritize using local, organic ingredients in their Thanksgiving dishes, reflecting the state’s commitment to environmental sustainability and support for local farmers and producers.

Concluding our Washington State Thanksgiving Post

The history of Thanksgiving in Washington state is a rich and fascinating one, reflecting the state’s diverse cultural heritage and evolving traditions. From the early celebrations of the first settlers to the modern-day parades and feasts, Thanksgiving in Washington has always been a time for families and communities to come together and give thanks for the past year’s blessings.

As we continue to celebrate Thanksgiving in Washington, it is essential to remember and honour the contributions of Native American tribes, who have significantly shaped the state’s Thanksgiving traditions. By embracing the values of gratitude, generosity, and community, we can ensure that Thanksgiving remains a meaningful and cherished celebration for generations to come.

Whether you spend Thanksgiving with family and friends, volunteer in your community, or explore the great outdoors, there are countless ways to celebrate this memorable holiday in Washington State. So, this Thanksgiving, take a moment to reflect on this beloved holiday’s rich history and traditions and give thanks for the many blessings in your life.

Learn More About Washington Thanksgiving Traditions

Here are additional resources to deepen your understanding and appreciation of this holiday’s history and celebration:

  1. Wikipedia’s Thanksgiving (United States) page provides a comprehensive overview of Thanksgiving’s origins, including early observances and the Plymouth Pilgrims’ 1621 feast. It also touches on the significant role Native Americans played in these celebrations​ (Wikipedia).
  2. The Smithsonian Institution’s exploration of Thanksgiving offers insight into the holiday’s evolution from local harvest celebrations to a national holiday. It highlights the varied historical observances of Thanksgiving before the Pilgrims’ feast and President Lincoln’s eventual establishment of a national holiday, influenced by Sarah Josepha Hale’s campaign​ (Smithsonian Institution).
  3. Britannica’s Thanksgiving Day page delves into how Thanksgiving became a national holiday, the traditional ways it is celebrated, and why certain foods have become synonymous with the holiday meal. It also discusses the significance of Thanksgiving in both the United States and Canada​ (Encyclopedia Britannica).
  4. An article from on the history of Thanksgiving weather in Seattle reveals how weather conditions have impacted Thanksgiving celebrations in the area over the years, including notable events like the windstorm of 1983 and the major flood of 1990​ (

These resources provide a fuller picture of Thanksgiving’s rich history, from its early observances to the traditions that characterize the holiday today. Whether you’re interested in the historical context, the evolution of the holiday, or the specific ways it has been celebrated in Washington State and beyond, these links offer valuable insights and information.

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