For our first online Thanksgiving column (November 1997), I had simply continued where I'd left off way back in 1986 - an "Origins of Thanksgiving - Part 2", if you will. Having done that, this year I returned to the original '86 column itself, and, now thankfully (no pun intended) free from space limitations, enlarged upon it to finally tell the initial tale properly.

The original, much shorter 1986 column had simply been called "Thanksgiving". I now retitled it and expanded it to approximately three times its original length .

Apologetic Prologue

For those wondering about the non-appearance of our Halloween column, it became immediately evident that September's little trip into the haunted realm of Shirley Jackson was, in fact, more appropriate and ghoulish than anything else we were likely to stumble upon. Henceforth, I'll shy away from ghosts and such in the September issue, and I trust you all got a pleasant and informative chill or two from the September/October column.

But the pumpkins no longer leer from windows in candle-lit glory: they're being made into pies, now - the next holiday is just around the corner.

And so I give you:

Another Thanksgiving Column


Thanksgiving has undergone a bit of historic abuse in recent times from pseudo-historian nay-sayers and revisionists who tend to find some absurd delight in disproving popular Tradition. The romantic notion of grateful Pilgrims and hospitable Native Americans coming together to share in the bounty of the first harvest of those early English settlers in the New World is to be taken with a grain of salt, we are told - times were rather hard, people were dying of every imaginable cause, and just how formidable a spread could these poor souls be expected to manage in less than a year's time in a foreign land?

Well, you can all rest easy - the First Thanksgiving really happened, and by all accounts was probably a good deal of fun, too. The banquet itself lasted for three entire days, and was accompanied by various "games" of skill and strength.

Originally, the only Native American officially invited to join them was a friendly neighbor of theirs, Chief Massasoit, who had helped them both in their crop growing and in defending themselves against less friendly tribes. The Chief evidently didn't seem to think that ninety or so extra uninvited warriors would be much of an imposition (and in those less-enlightened days when the women were expected to do all the preparing, there were about five able women to be found among the Pilgrims)!

Yes, they really did eat turkey, not to mention lobster, venison, wild fowl, corn, wheat, oysters, cod, herring, eel (glad I missed that!), pumpkin (no pies, though), fruits, nuts, beer and wine. (They also appear to have eaten eagle, which supposedly tasted like mutton!)

They did not enjoy ham, sweet potatoes, or cranberry sauce.

Now, having established what that first feast was, I confess in deference to debunkers everywhere that there are one or two little misconceptions about the holiday . . .

First, contrary to popular belief, the Pilgrims were not Puritans. Puritans were a faction of the Church of England who wished to "purify" that Church from within, hence the name. Our Thanksgiving Pilgrim Fathers actually belonged to a group called "Seperatists." They didn't much care what the Church of England did - they simply wanted to be out of it altogether - to Seperate from it, as it were.

This leads to a visual misconception. When asked to draw the typical First Thanksgiving, your average child will immediately render the popular image of the stern Pilgrim clad in black and white, with huge buckles (I myself once did such a rendering, for which I must plead both ignorance and the folly of youth - I was seven).

This popular view stems from the fact that we've commonly associated the Pilgrims with Puritanism, and the Puritans did in fact wear such colorless clothing. The Separatists, however, had clothes of red, green, brown, and even purple (usually restricted to royalty)! As far as buckles go, no one was wearing them, as they did not actually appear anywhere in the colonies until approximately 70 years after that First Thanksgiving.

Next, it turns out that the Pilgrims weren't actually celebrating Thanksgiving! To them, that first feast was simply a traditional English Harvest feast. It was the real Puritans, who landed in America nine years later, who began the tradition of observing occasional Thanksgivings to Providence at different times of the year. In time, this custom merged with the English Harvest festival to produce a New England tradition of Autumnal Thanksgiving, which was regularly observed long before Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation augured in the Modern Thanksgiving tradition we still observe today.

As a matter of fact, it wasn't until the mid-1800's that the Pilgrim's original feast was even referred to as the "First Thanksgiving," and it wasn't until World War I that the Pilgrim Fathers became indelibly associated with the holiday. You see, that war caused a great demographic upheaval in America, and people began to increasingly worry about the decline of traditional "family values" (sound familiar?), so the image of the stalwart, close knit family-minded Pilgrims was trotted out to attempt to remind Americans of the enduring value of home, hearth and family. It was only then that the now so familiar stories began to appear in magazines, literature and schoolbooks. Prior to that time, the holiday was much more associated with the later New England Harvest feasts - only in this century was the concept of Thanksgiving as the ultimate Family holiday introduced.

So, as I said at the beginning, the historic First Thanksgiving really did occur, even though the celebrants looked completely different, weren't Puritans, and weren't even celebrating a Thanksgiving!

Small details - what it was was the whole colony and their neighbors sitting down together to eat way more turkey than they ought, and celebrating with games, etc. for a very long weekend. It truly seems that the more things change . . . (you know the rest!)

I trust you're now as hungry as I am, so I'll leave you with a few new Thanksgiving links, and I'll be back in December. I promise. Otherwise, I know what Mom will be putting in my stocking this year, and as I don't own a coal burner I fear the gift would be somewhat impractical.



Modern recipes to recreate the First Thanksgiving Feast.

A history - with old photos - of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Nothing conjures up traditional holiday memories of home and hearth as much as Thanksgiving does, except perhaps Reader's Digest! There's stories, recipes, crafts, entertaining hints, and lots more.

Finally, here's a couple of last year's links - they're still worthwhile . . .

Good Housekeeping's Thanksgiving recipe page - if you aren't ravenously hungry already this site should do it.

A good overall Thanksgiving site, with lots of links