Teaching About Thanksgiving
Where Did Thanksgiving Come From?
American Indian peoples, Europeans, and other cultures around the world often celebrated the harvest season with feasts to offer thanks to higher powers for their sustenance and survival.
In 1541 Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his troops celebrated a "Thanksgiving" while searching for New World gold in what is now the Texas Panhandle.
Later such feasts were held by French Huguenot colonists in present-day Jacksonville, Florida (1564), by English colonists and Abnaki Indians at Maine's Kennebec River (1607), and in Jamestown, Virginia (1610), when the arrival of a food-laden ship ended a brutal famine.
(Related: "Four Hundred-Year-Old Seeds, Spear Change Perceptions of Jamestown Colony.")
But it's the 1621 Plimoth Thanksgiving that's linked to the birth of our modern holiday. The truth is the first "real" Thanksgiving happened two centuries later.
Everything we know about the three-day Plimoth gathering comes from a description in a letter wrote by Edward Winslow, leader of the Plimoth Colony, in 1621, Monac said.
It had been lost for 200 years and was rediscovered in the 1800s, she added.
In 1841 Boston publisher Alexander Young printed Winslow's brief account of the feast and added his own twist, dubbing it the "First Thanksgiving."
In Winslow's "short letter, it was clear that [the 1621 feast] was not something that was supposed to be repeated again and again. It wasn't even a Thanksgiving, which in the 17th century was a day of fasting. It was a harvest celebration."
But after its mid-1800s century appearance, Young's designation caught on—to say the least.
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863. He was probably swayed in part by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale—the author of the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb"—who had suggested Thanksgiving become a holiday, historians say.
In 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt established the current date for observance, the fourth Thursday of November.
What Was on the First Thanksgiving Menu?
Little is known about the first Thanksgiving dinner in the Plimoth (also spelled Plymouth) Colony in October 1621, attended by some 50 English colonists and about 90 native Wampanoag men in what is now Massachusetts.
We do know that the Wampanoag killed five deer for the feast, and that the colonists shot wild fowl—which may have been geese, ducks, or turkey. Some form, or forms, of Indian corn were also served.
But Jennifer Monac, spokesperson for the living-history museum Plimoth Plantation said the feasters likely supplemented their venison and birds with fish, lobster, clams, nuts, and wheat flour, as well as vegetables such as pumpkin, squash, carrots, and peas.
"They ate seasonally," Monac said, "and this was the time of the year when they were really feasting. There were lots of vegetables around, because the harvest had been brought in."
Traditional Thanksgiving fare that certainly wasn't on the table: potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.
If you want to eat like a Pilgrim yourself, try some of the Plimoth Plantation's recipes, including stewed pompion (pumpkin) or traditional Wampanoag succotash.
[ The above from National Geographic: Thanksgiving Facts