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
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
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
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.
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