What Was The First Thanksgiving Like?

What was the first Thanksgiving like? The first Thanksgiving was more than celebrating and giving thanks, it was the union of two tribes of people.

What will you do on Thanksgiving Day? Most likely you'll do the same thing you do every year. American traditions are centered on spending time at home with family on this special day. They watch football, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and eat tons of delicious food. But, what was it like for the Pilgrims and Indians on that first Thanksgiving Day at Plymouth?

As with most historical particulars we do not know the most precise details of the first Thanksgiving. According to Edward Winslow's 1621 letter we know that wild fowl and venison was served at the three-day feast. Wild fowl could have been a variety of birds including turkey. We also have a little information from Governor Bradfords's diary about the first Thanksgiving.

For the first time since the Pilgrims settled in America, they had all the food they needed. Their harvest brought in piles of Indian corn along with plenty of other vegetables. They winterized their houses as best they could to prepare for the approaching icy winds and snow. Each home stacked up plenty of wood for their fires. Barrels of furs sat ready to be shipped to England. By October all their harvest was in and Governor Bradford declared a time for giving thanks. All of the Indians living near and far were invited to attend the grand feast at Plymouth.

1621 Harvest Feast:

The cooking was done over an open fire both inside the cabins and outside in the yards. Each family did their part in cooking and preparing for the festive occasion. The four surviving housewives along with their teenage daughters made preparation for the feast. They made lobster pies while the men roasted ducks, venison and wild fowl which may or may not have included turkey.

We know they had dried fruits and lots of fish including lobster, cod and most likely clams. Tons of vegetables were cooked along with plenty of homemade breads, cakes, puddings and boiled pumpkin. While the adults were preparing the famous dinner, the children helped out by doing little odds and ends. Even the Wampanoag Indians came to help prepare the meal. The settlers called them "Squanto."

Massasoit, the great Indian Chief arrived with 90 men from his tribe. They carried in five large deer and prepared them for cooking. They cut up and roasted the deer over big, open fires. When the dinner was ready the Pilgrims and Indians made such merriment that the celebration continued for three whole days. They ate delicious food, sang, danced and held displays of musket fire. Of course there was plenty of time for leisure and recreation.

At the festivity the Pilgrims gave much thanks to God for sparing their lives. They gave special thanks for the food and their Indian friends they found in America. Because of the great celebration the Pilgrims began a custom of Thanksgiving that sill lives on today.

They believed if they could survive that first winter in the wilderness that they would be able to get through any other hardship that might come their way. Because of their bravery and strength they have become a legend to us. These first Pilgrims are known as the most famous of the early settlers and are often referred to as the Pilgrim Fathers.

Governor William Bradford left us much information regarding the Pilgrims. Bradford was elected governor of Plymouth 30 times. He kept a detailed diary and tells us that Chief Massasoit stayed friends with the Pilgrims all of his life. Even though the exact date is not recorded it is believed that the great feast occurred between September 21 and November 11, 1621. Since the traditional time for English harvest celebrations was on September 29, many believe that it is the most likely day that the feast occurred.

Indians and Thanksgiving:

We should remember that on the first day of Thanksgiving a great friendship existed between the white Europeans and the Indians. Today many Native Americans look at this day as the beginning of the approaching holocaust against the Indian people of the New World. Yet, there are many Native Americans who celebrate the harmony for all peoples of America much like their ancestors, the original natives of the land.

President George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day on November 26, 1789. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an annual holiday to be observed on the last Thursday in November. From 1939-41 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the third Thursday in November. In 1941 the Congress returned the celebration to the fourth Thursday in November. In November 1879 Canada observed their first Thanksgiving and today is officially celebrated on the second Monday in October.

In the United States Thanksgiving is an annual holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Although the first Thanksgiving lasted for three days, today it is only celebrated on one day. In 1621 the Plymouth colonists gathered to give thanks for their first harvest and for surviving the first dreadful winter in Massachusetts. Little did they realize they were having what would become known as "The First Thanksgiving."

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