How did our Ancestors spend their Thanksgiving?

posted in: Holidays, Thanksgiving | 0

 

Corn would have been served at the first Thanksgiving
Corn would have been served at the first Thanksgiving

We all know the story of the first thanksgiving, but did you know that it has changed considerably since then.   I would like to briefly explore the history of Thanksgiving.  We seem to take for granted some times that our forbearers spent holidays the same way we did, however that is far from the way it really was.

The Pilgrims arrived in what is now Plymouth, MA in 1620.  They set out to settling a town, as well as a harvest, so they could provide for themselves.  Their first harvest was bountiful and in the fall of 1621, however they did not call it a Thanksgiving.

These people were extremely religious and a day of thanksgiving meant a day or prayer and fasting to them. It was probably more like a traditional English Harvest Festival.  Although it is referred to as the First Thanksgiving, it is not a celebration that they continued.  As the colonists were still building their town, it was most likely held outside.

Rendition of the first Thanksgiving
Rendition of the first Thanksgiving

Edward Winslow wrote about this feast, so we know t the celebration lasted for three days.  He goes on to say that they shot a wide variety of fowl [included ducks, geese, turkeys and even swans], as well as four deer.  They killed enough fowl to supply the town for an entire week. King Massasoit joined their celebration and brought ninety-one other Indians with him.

So the Indians and Pilgrims got along, actually the Pilgrims would most likely not have survived their first winter without the help of the Indians. The flour supply was diminished so there was no bread or pastries. The feast did include fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison, and plums.

The pilgrims did not have a celebration in 1622, but the drought was so bad in 1623 they all gathered together and prayed for rain.  When it began to rain the next day, Governor Bradford declared another day of celebration, again with their Indian friends.

Turkey may not have been on the menu of those early Thanksgiving dinners
Turkey may not have been on the menu of those early Thanksgiving dinners

The next thanksgiving celebration was not held until June 1676, but it did not include the Indians, as they did not get along now.  Dairy products were not available and the Irish had not yet brought the potato to America, so these are items that were not on those early Thanksgiving tables.

October 1777 was the first time the 13 colonies celebrated Thanksgiving, over the defeat of the British at Saratoga.  President George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789, but many colonist were opposed to it, feeling the sacrifice and hardships of a few pilgrims did not warrant a National Holiday.

President Thomas Jefferson was adamant in his dislike over the holiday.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor championed for 40 years writing articles and editorials, as well as many letters to our politicians of the day over the need for this holiday.

New York adopted Thanksgiving as a state holiday in 1830, and many other northern states soon followed.  Virginia was the first southern state to adopt the holiday in 1855.

The Pilgrims gave thanks to good for provision. However, they did not sit at long tables. Most likely they all stood around or sat on tree trunks or anything else they could provide.
The Pilgrims gave thanks to good for provision. However, they did not sit at long tables. Most likely they all stood around or sat on tree trunks or anything else they could provide.

President Abraham Lincoln claimed in 1863 that the last Thursday in November be proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving.

This date was proclaimed a holiday by every president after Lincoln, although it was changed to the third Thursdays for a while under President Franklin Roosevelt.  The change was at the urging of many retailers in hopes of making the Christmas shopping season longer.  Yet, most people objected to this decision and it was moved back to the original date.

In 1941, Thanksgiving was finally sanctioned by Congress as a legal holiday, on the fourth Thursday in November.  Some states would celebrate Thanksgiving on the fifth Thursday, if there were five weeks.  Every state has celebrated the holiday on the fourth Thursday since 1956. Since then it has become a major celebration, marked by many with the Macy’s Day Parade and football. It is now the official start of the Christmas season.

Canada first celebrated Thanksgiving in November 1879.  It is now an official holiday on the second Monday in October for the Canadians. The Thanksgiving holiday is also observed around the world with yearly celebrations in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Liberia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Grenada, and the Virgin Islands.

happy-thanksgiving

Some little known facts about Thanksgiving:

  • 1621 was NOT the first Thanksgiving celebration to be held in North America. This first celebration was in 1541 when during Coronado’s expedition a Eucharistic thanksgiving, with the friendly Teya Indians present, occurred in Palo Duro Canyon in West Texas.
  • Men and women were not allowed to sit together during the first Thanksgiving celebration.