The First Thanksgiving

Joann Wolwowicz

Next Thursday is the holiday of holidays when it comes to stuffing ourselves with good food and spending time with families. Every year we sit together at the dinner table, but do we ever really put any thought into who sat at that first Thanksgiving table? What did they eat? Where did some of our other Thanksgiving traditions come from?

Take a trip back in time to 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared what is today known as the first Thanksgiving feast. This feast was actually part of a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Native American had organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before European actually arrived in North America.

Some people believe that after the first Thanksgiving took place, it was repeated every year after that. However, it was not the beginning of a tradition. In fact, the original Thanksgiving took place sometime between September 21th and November 11th and was three days long. The celebration was not even referred to as a day of Thanksgiving because a thanksgiving was a religious holiday for the pilgrims. It would have been a day to go to church and to thank God for a specific event. If it had been a religious day, there would not have been any singing, dancing, and game playing because that would never have been allowed. Because it was such a secular celebration, it was most likely not thought of as a “thanksgiving.” President Abraham Lincoln was the president who declared the final Thursday in November as an official national holiday in 1941.

Historians aren’t really sure as to what the pilgrims actually ate. It is safe to say that there was no pumpkin pie or mash potatoes available. Historians are sure, however, that the pilgrims had venison and wild fowl. Today, our Thanksgiving dinners are centered on the turkey. The pilgrims’ meal often included many different meats and often, depending on the type of year, many vegetables were not available to the colonists. The pilgrims probably did not have any pies (or anything sweet for that matter) because there was only a small amount of sugar brought on the Mayflower and supplies quickly dwindled. Plus with no ovens, pies, cakes, and breads were not possible at all. In fact, the food that was eaten at the first feast was probably healthier for the pilgrims at that time than it would be for people now. Being more active, they needed more protein. Surprisingly, foods that are now considered part of a modern Thanksgiving meal, such as sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, and cranberry sauce, did not appear on the table.