Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday ever since I was a child. As I grew up and learned more about the holiday, its origin in America and anciently, I have grown to love it even more. It is a day of showing thanks but is not associated with a religion.
I have four ancestors who arrived in this country on the MAYFLOWER, they were "Elder" William Brewster, who was the elder of the Pilgrim Church, their pastor (Check out his estate at Through The Looking Glass.) ; and "Master" Richard Warren. Both of whom were at the first Festival in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the autumn of 1621. The Festival which later became known as the First Thanksgiving.
The history of the American Thanksgiving has been told many ways. Often with biased interpretations. The following is as close to factual truth as I have been able to collect.
The "Pilgrims," (not what they called themselves, the title was given to them at a later time.) arrived in American (New England) on Saturday, the 21st of November 1620. The "Mayflower" dropped anchor off the shore of what is now Provincetown. Four of my family's ancestors were aboard the "Mayflower." They were "Elder" William Brewster who was the head of the Pilgrim church; and his wife, Mary Brewster, and "Master" Richard Warren, a merchant from London, all from my mother's side of the family. From my father's side was George Soule.
Often the pilgrims are mentioned as puritans, which is not the case. The puritans arrived in New England at a later date. The pilgrims were made up of two groups of people. Those who were members of the Separatists Congregation and then all the others, most of who were members of the Church of England (Episcopalian Church in America). In our case, Brewster was a Separatist and Warren was an Episcopalian. George Soule was a servant of a Separatist and therefore his original religiouis views are not known.
The pilgrims went about their business of finding a location to make their home. The settled on what is now Plymouth. They began to build their little village to prepare for the winter, which was upon them. Plymouth was the location of an Indian village. The entire village had died from a disease that they got from other white men with whom they had had contact. There was no claim to the land by any tribe of Native Americans. Therefore, the land was not stolen from the Indians, as some revisionists would like to state.
The winter was hard and half of the people who arrived on the "Mayflower" died. Thankfully, our ancestors survived. The following year was a very busy one. They worked hard trying to finish their village and to plant crops for the autumn harvest. One thing that many people do not realize is that they first tried doing their crops as a group. More along the lines of communism, a communal farm where everyone is to put in their share of the work. Well, it didn't really work. There are always those who work harder than others are and those who don't work at all. Thankfully they each had their own private vegetable gardens by their homes as well or there would have been little food to carry them over the next winter.
The first year also brought them into contact with neighboring Indian tribes. King Samoset came to their village to meet them and told them all about the tribes around them. We would call him a king, but his title was Sachem in his language, which was leader of all the tribes in the area. Squanto (Tisquantum) also came to them. He had been taken captive by the English and taken to England but had escaped and was able to return to America. He was very instrumental with teaching the pilgrims how to farm and fish in the area and the use of fertilizer with their crops. He taught them about planting corn (Maize). It was one of their most successful crops and is what helped them through the 2nd winter with not only their animals but with themselves.
After the harvest of 1621 they decided to celebrate the occasion. Governor William Bradford sent four men out to go "fowling." In one day the got enough fowl to feed the entire village for a week. With all the celebrating going on, the Indians heard the guns shooting and went to check it out. They soon joined in the celebration. Altogether, there were 52 English people and 90 Native Americans (mostly of the Wampanoag tribe) celebrating the harvest. The Indians went out and shot five deer and brought back for the celebration. The celebration lasted for three days. There were many meals and entertainment throughout the three days.
Much of what they ate that first harvest celebration (which in later years received the name "the first Thanksgiving") was food that was native to the region. Wild Turkey was probably on the menu, as would have been duck and venison. Pumpkin was also probably on the menu, but not as a pumpkin pie, which has become tradition today. They had no sugar, but they did have maple syrup. They probably had ibimi (Indian Pudding) which was made with corn meal and maple syrup. Nasaump, a Native American dish was most likely on the menu. It was a dish made with corn. Stewed Pompion was an early recipe of the English housewives in America. It was made with pumpkin or squash.
Over the years the American people carried variations of this first festival harvest celebration with them as they migrated across the country. There was not a set date for the celebration. The first nationwide celebration for Thanksgiving was proclaimed after the victory battle of Saratoga in 1777 during the Revolution by President George Washington. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November the official annual Thanksgiving Day in 1863, during the Civil War. It remained that date until the 1940?s when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who was a descendent of Philip Delano of the "Mayflower") proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November instead of the last Thursday to be the official Thanksgiving Day. The fourth Thursday is often the last Thursday, but sometimes there are five Thursdays in the month of November. That made Thanksgiving fall on November 23 instead of November 30 that year. It has remained that date to this day. The reasoning for the change was to allow more shopping days until Christmas. Thanksgiving has become the kickoff of shopping for Christmas. Most businesses are closed on that day, excluding restaurants, gas stations and shopping centers. Many are also closed on Friday. Many people have a four-day weekend to celebrate, with most people going home for the holiday to spend it with family. Grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles all get together. In 1957, Canada official declared a different day for Thanksgiving. It is held on a Monday in early October. Because of their shorter summers, their harvest is earlier than in America. Up until then, they observed the same Thanksgiving Day as in America.
Today, turkey is the main meat at any Thanksgiving table and pumpkin pie is the official desert. Also traditional is mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, a corn dish of some kind, cranberries and a bread or cornbread stuffing in the turkey. Southerners usually have pecan pie and northerners seem to have apple or cranberry pies along with the pumpkin pie.
The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to invite and provoke the aggression of foreign states, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict, while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. The needful diversion of wealth and strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense has not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship. The axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect a continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be reverently, solemnly, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and voice, by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
(signed) Abraham Lincoln.