History of the Thanksgiving Meal

People Talking Celebrating Thanksgiving Holiday

The genesis of our modern Thanksgiving, which took place in 1621, bore a limited resemblance to our celebration today. The original feast included a gathering of approximately 50 Englishmen and 90 Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe who traveled for about two days for the event (Time.com). The colonists, having arrived on the continent in 1620, celebrated their first harvest in the fall of 1621, but the actual meal was light on vegetables. The Wampanoag brought five deer, while colonists contributed various waterfowl including geese, ducks, swans, and likely passenger pigeons (which at the time were abundant but are now extinct in the wild) (Smithsonian Magazine). The wild turkey is mentioned by some sources, though others argue there is no clear evidence of turkey having been served at all (New York Times).

Though birds may have been stuffed, it was not the bread-based stuffing we are familiar with, but rather chunks of onion and herbs (Smithsonian Magazine). None of our commonly anticipated side dishes (mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie) were present at the original meal. The fowl and venison were accompanied by fish, shellfish, nuts, corn, and possibly squash, as these were readily available and part of the regular diet (New England Today).

Having traveled so far to get there, the natives stayed and feasted with the colonists for three days and enjoyed various forms of entertainment including running races and shooting competitions (Time.com). Games enjoyed by the children included Cobb’s Castle and Hubnub, both played with stones, though the latter requires a bowl and maybe played with pennies instead of stones, and a game called “All Hid,” which is similar to hide and seek (Scholastic “Games Played at the First Thanksgiving”).  These simple games  might be fun to try at home. If it is too cold to play outside or stones are not readily available, you might try other household objects such as small pillows, plastic cups, toys, or even produce that no one plans to eat.

The feast in 1621 was surely not called “Thanksgiving,” and the event was not repeated for at least a decade, as various plagues and conflicts between colonists and natives followed. Then around the mid-nineteenth century, nostalgia for colonial times emerged, and the states and colonies began to celebrate the harvest feast in an unofficial fashion (Smithsonian Magazine). In 1827, Sara Josepha Hale, editor of the popular trendsetting Goodey’s Lady’s Book magazine, began petitioning various US presidents to establish Thanksgiving as an annual event (Smithsonian Magazine). Abraham Lincoln, the thirteenth president petitioned by Hale, finally granted her wish in 1863 as a way to “unite the country in the midst of the Civil War” (Smithsonian Magazine).

However you celebrate and whatever you choose to eat, we at Waitte’s Insurance Agency wish you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. Give us a call when you are ready to discuss your unique insurance needs.

New England Today "Food"
New York Times
Scholastic "Games Played at the First Thanksgiving"
Smithsonian Magazine
Time.com