The Origins of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a widely celebrated holiday in the U.S. taking place every year on the fourth Thursday of November. In fact, 62% of Americans celebrate Thanksgiving at home with their loved ones each year. But are we celebrating something that we don’t really know the full meaning behind? Thanksgiving is a time that most Americans can agree is spent being thankful, which is true. But the story of Thanksgiving involves much more than being thankful for all that we are given.

The story of Thanksgiving first begins in 1620, when a group of 102 religious separatists left their home in search of religious freedom. The pilgrims finally settled in Massachusetts Bay after 66 days on a ship named the Mayflower. From there, the pilgrims began to cultivate and establish the town of Plymouth. The first winter in America was brutal, and many pilgrims suffered from diseases such as scurvy. By March however, they were greeted by an English- speaking tribe of Indians known as the Abenakis. A member of one the native tribes, Squanto, taught the pilgrims how to use and respect the land. In November of 1621, the pilgrims had their first successful harvest and called for a celebration that included their native allies.

This celebration- now referred to as “Thanksgiving”- lasted for three days. Much of the menu of the first Thanksgiving is unknown, but historians rationalize that many of the sweet treats we enjoy at the table today- 400 years after the first Thanksgiving- were most likely not present in November of 1621. Most of the sugar necessary in making these sweets would have been in short supply after months on the Mayflower. Much of the meal, however, was made using native spices that local tribes had used for years before.

So the next time you are sitting around the dinner table with your loved ones enjoying turkey and stuffing, remember the first Thanksgiving, one of harvest and harmony.

-Roma L.

The History of Thanksgiving

Turkey, breaded stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, and apple cider? Sound familiar? You got it.

The meal of Thanksgiving is a hearty one, shared with friends and family. You know the star of the meal, the turkey, but have you ever wondered how the first ever Thanksgiving was celebrated? It was nothing like the one we have today, that’s for sure.

You’ve probably heard of the Pilgrims, traveling across treacherous oceans on the famous Mayflower to reach Plymouth, escaping from religious persecution. It all started in 1621, when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of Thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

First off, turkey wasn’t the bird of choice for the first Thanksgiving meal. It is suspected by researchers that duck, geese, swans, or a now extinct bird named passenger pigeons would be the main wild bird of choice. It is possible that the birds were stuffed, though probably not with bread. The Pilgrims instead stuffed birds with chunks of onion and herbs.

In addition to wild birds and deer, the colonists and Wampanoag probably ate eels and shellfish, such as lobster, clams and mussels. They had a well-balanced diet, with chestnuts, walnuts, and beechnuts. They also grew beans, pumpkins, and squashes. All this, naturally, begs a follow-up question. So how did the Thanksgiving menu evolve into what it is today?

Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the popular women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, was a leading voice in establishing Thanksgiving as an annual event. She is also famous as the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Beginning in 1827, Hale petitioned 13 presidents to make it a national holiday. Finally, she pitched her idea to President Lincoln as a way to unite the country in the midst of the Civil War. In 1863, he made Thanksgiving a national holiday, a day to give thanks.

Throughout her campaign, Hale printed Thanksgiving recipes and menus in Godey’s Lady’s Book. She also published close to a dozen cookbooks. Hale is readying women to accept the idea of Thanksgiving, and instructing them what to cook. And the Thanksgiving food that we think of today — including roast turkey, creamed onions, mashed turnips, even some of the mashed potato dishes? You can find them in her cookbook.

-Katharine L.

Christmas Only Comes Before Thanksgiving in the Dictionary

Blinking lights, ringing bells, the “Ho, Ho, Ho” of a jolly old man in a red suit. These are little reminders that the holidays are finally here. Christmas is a magical time that gives you a warm feeling every time you think about it. I understand the excitement and joy of Christmas, but should we ignore Thanksgiving all together?

Thanksgiving is a joyous holiday when you get together with your family and say what you are thankful for. Nowadays, many are already in the frenzy of Christmas even before the turkey has been served. Years ago, stores and shops were closed on Thanksgiving, allowing families to enjoy their time together. However, in 2017 so many stores are now open, even on this special holiday.

While families do still sit down at the dinner table to eat turkey and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, most do not fully enjoy and understand the meaning of it. It is a time when relatives make it a point to fly home from out yonder just to sit down for one meal. It’s a time when families can be grateful for the plentiful food on their table. It’s a time when you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the time you spend with your family. There is a whole month after Thanksgiving to put up decorations and get ready for Christmas, so put your ornaments away and give thanks to those around you.

-Brooke H.