Traditionally, the 1621 harvest feast celebrated by Plymouth Colony, is known as “The First Thanksgiving”. By today’s standards, it was a green and low carbon event.
The First Thanksgiving
It was a local affair so did not require transportation. People walked to hunt, harvest, and between their homes and the harvest feast. There may have been human-powered boats involved, especially for fishing. There were no horses in Plymouth Colony and certainly no cars, buses, trains, or airplanes.
Prayer and thanking God for a good harvest played an important part in the harvest feast. Preparing, cooking, eating, and cleaning up the food for the feast would have taken a substantial amount of time and was all done by hand. There might have been a game or two, maybe music, perhaps some storytelling. There was no lying on the sofa watching football on TV or pre-Black Friday shopping.
All food was seasonal, local, and organic. The food was prepared and served in washable reusable cookware and tableware. Fortunately, throw away packaging did not exist. If there were any leftovers, they would have been preserved without refrigeration. Nothing would have been thrown out or wasted.
Written accounts by Edward Winslow and William Bradford provide the little information we have about the actual food eaten at the harvest feast.
- Waterfowl, wild turkeys
- Cod, bass
- Wheat, corn, barley
- Maybe a few peas
Food anthropologists and historians have provided some insight into other foods that were native to the area and might have been served.
- Clams, mussels, lobster, eel
- Acorns, walnuts, chestnuts
- Squashes, beans
- Strawberries, raspberries, grapes, gooseberries, cranberries
It is possible foods might have included those grown from seeds brought over on the Mayflower.
- Onions, leeks, carrots, radishes, currants
- Sorrel, yarrow, lettuce, liverwort, watercress
Many of the foods we associate with Thanksgiving today were not available to the colonists.
- Baked Goods
- Bread Stuffing
- Candied Yams
- Green Bean Casserole
- Mashed Potatoes
- Pumpkin Pie
Family and Friends
From the beginning, Thanksgiving has been a time to enjoy family and friends, and thankfully it still is.
Thanksgiving Holiday History Highlights
- 1621: The first successful harvest of the Plymouth Colony immigrants was celebrated with a harvest feast. Members of the Wampanoag Indians, who had helped the colonists with corn planting and fishing, attended the 3-day feast.
- 1789: President George Washington issued a Presidential Proclamation designating November 26th as a day of public Thanksgiving and prayer. For many years after, states observed their own Thanksgiving days and traditions.
- 1847: After writing bout Thanksgiving in books and magazines for 20 years, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale began her quest for a national day of Thanksgiving by writing to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians.
- 1863: During the middle of the civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Presidential Proclamation naming the last day of November as a national day of Thanksgiving.
- 1924: The first Thanksgiving Day Parade was sponsored by Macy’s to promote holiday shopping.
- 1934: The Detroit Lions of the National Football League decided to hold a football game on Thanksgiving as a way to boost attendance and promote the sport, a tradition they carry on today.
- 1939: As a way to aid depression era businesses and provide more time for holiday shopping, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the 4th Thursday in November.
- 1941: An act of Congress officially made the 4th Thursday of November, Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday.
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