Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims to go together, like Christmas and Santa
Claus ~ but the truth is, the Pilgrims never held a Thanksgiving feast in
the Fall. Let's take a look at the origin of that myth. The truth may be
even more intriguing.
The Pilgrims had a feast after their first harvest in 1621. It's this feast
which people refer to as "The First Thanksgiving". This feast wasn't
repeated, so it can't be called the start of a tradition, nor did the colonists or
"Pilgrims" call it a Thanksgiving Celebration. In fact, to those religious
people, a day of thanksgiving was a day of prayer and fasting.
Nevertheless, the 1621 feast has become the traditional model for our
own Thanksgiving celebration and we do know some of the real story.
We can assume that the harvest feast was eaten outside based on the
fact that the Colonists didn't have a building large enough to hold all the
people who came. Native people were definitely among the invited
guests, and it's possible that turkey (roasted but not stuffed) and pumpkin
in some form was served. This is the way the feast was described in a
first-hand account by a leader of the colony, Edward Winslow, as it
appears in Mourt's Relation:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that
so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had
gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl
as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which
time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, Many
of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King
Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained
and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought
to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain
and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was this time
with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we
often wish you partakers of our plenty."
From this we know that the feast of thanksgiving lasted three days,
included ninety "Indians", and food was plentiful. In addition, to the
venison provided by the Indians, there was enough wild fowl to supply
the village for a week. The fowl would have included ducks, geese,
turkeys and even swans.
Much of the information we have about this period in the lives of those
people is the result of research conducted by the staff at Plimoth Plantation,
the living museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, that re-creates the
lives of the Pilgrims with Mayflower II, the 1627 Pilgrim Village, and a
native homesite. From two first hand accounts (the second was written
by William Bradford, Governor of the colony for 33 years), we have a
good idea of how the village looked, what the colonists wore, how they
talked, what animals they owned and how they lived. We even know
what games they played, what their views might have been on
everything from their new home to religion and politics. And with all this
knowledge, we piece together what foods could have been served at
the feast, how the table looked, how the setting looked, even maybe
what the conversation was like.
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The year has turned its circle,
The seasons come and go.
The harvest all is gathered in
And chilly north winds blow.
Orchards have shared their treasures,
The fields, their yellow grain,
So open wide the doorway~
Thanksgiving comes again!
At Grandma's House
I like the taste of turkey
Any time throughout the year
But it never
seems to taste as good
As when Thanksgiving's here.
Could be it's all the trimmings
That are cooked with it to eat-
But I think it's
eating at Grandma's house
That makes it such a treat!
For the hay and the corn and the wheat that is reaped,
For the labor well done, and the barns that are heaped,
For the sun and the dew and the sweet honeycomb,
For the rose and the song and the harvest brought home --
For the trade and the skill and the wealth in our land,
For the cunning and strength of the workingman's hand,
For the good that our artists and poets have taught,
For the friendship that hope and affection have brought --
For the homes that with purest affection are blest,
For the season of plenty and well-deserved rest,
For our country extending from sea unto sea;
The land that is known as the "Land of the Free" --
Celebrating Bountiful Harvests
Throughout history man
has celebrated the bountiful
harvest with festivals or ceremonies of thanksgiving.
Before the establishment of formal religions ancient
farmers believed their crops contained spirits which
caused the crops to grow and die. Many believed
these spirits would be released when the crops
were harvested and they had to be destroyed or
they would take revenge on the farmers who
harvested them. Harvest festivals celebrated
the defeat of these spirits.
Thanksgiving celebrations and
were held by the ancient Romans, the Greeks, the
Egyptians, and the Hebrews,.
The Romans celebrated a harvest festival
called Cerelia, which honored Ceres, their goddess
of corn (from which the word cereal comes). The
festival was held each year on October 4th and
offerings of the first fruits of the harvest and hogs
were offered to Ceres. Their celebration included
games and sports, parades, music, and a
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The Greeks worshipped many gods and
goddesses. Their goddess of corn (and all grains)
was Demeter who was honored at the festival of
Thesmosphoria held every Autumn.
On the first day of the festival married women
would build leafy shelters and furnish them
with couches made with plants. The next day
they fasted. On the third day a feast was held and
offerings to the goddess Demeter were made - gifts
of fruit, seed corn, cake, and pigs.They hoped that
Demeter's gratitude would grant them a good harvest.
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Jewish families celebrate a harvest festival
called Sukkoth. Sukkoth has been celebrated
for over 3000 years.
Sukkoth is known by two names - "Hag ha Succot",
the Feast of the Tabernacles and "Hag ha Asif",
the Feast of Ingathering. Sukkoth begins on the
15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishri,
five days after Yom Kippur the most solemn day
of the Jewish year.
Sukkoth is named for the huts ("succots") that
Moses and the Israelites lived in as they wandered
the desert for forty years before they reached
the Promised Land. The huts were made of branches
and were easy to put together, take apart, and
carry as the Israelites wandered through the desert.
When celebrating Sukkoth, which lasts for eight
days, the Jewish people build small huts of branches
which symbolize the tabernacles of their ancestors.
These huts are made as temporary shelters, as
the branches are not driven into the ground and
the roof is covered with foliage which is spaced
to let the light in. Inside the huts are hung fruits
and vegetables. On the first two nights of Sukkoth
the families eat their evening meals in the huts.
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The Egyptians celebrated their harvest
festival in honor of Min, their god of fertility and
vegetation. The celebration was held in the Spring,
the Egyptian harvest season.
The festival of Min featured a parade in which the
Pharaoh took part. Music, dancing and sports were
part of the festival which followed the parade.
When the Egyptian farmers harvested their corn,
they wept and pretended to be grief-stricken. This
was to deceive the spirit which they believed lived in
the corn. They feared the spirit would become angry
when the farmers cut down the corn where it lived.
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