History of Thanksgiving

Pilgrims, Indians, and a National Holiday, Oh My!

Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving has become a staple in American Society.  The Food, the football, the parades… But Thanksgiving hasn’t always been this commercialized.  In fact, the first celebration wasn’t even called “Thanksgiving”.  It was simply an end of harvest feast.

The pilgrims’ fist winter in America had been marred with scurvy and other contagious diseases (only half the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see the spring of 1621).  So, in November 1621, they wanted to celebrate their first successful harvest by putting on a three-day feast.

Upon coming to shore, the pilgrims received help from a local Indian tribe known as the Pawtuxets.  An Indian named Squanto (who spoke English) taught the settlers how to properly cultivate corn, catch fish in the rivers and which plants to avoid in the area.  With the help of Squanto, the malnourished and sickly colonists were able to survive in the unfamiliar area.  After a successful harvest the following fall, the settlers wanted to celebrate with another local tribe that helped them in their transition to the new world, the Wampanoags.

While the exact menu of the feast is not known, it is likely that it looked quite a bit different than the meal we’re used to.  It is uncertain whether turkey was actually dined upon for the meal or not.  It is known that a “fowling” party was sent out to collect some local game, but it’s unclear what type of birds they returned with.  A journal entry from one of the pilgrims does determine that the Wampanoags brought five deer with them.  It is speculated that Indian spices and cooking methods were used for the majority of the entrees.  But with no oven and a dwindled sugar supply, pies, cakes, or other desserts were not likely on the menu.

It was not until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday during the midst of the Civil War.

Thanksgiving Fun Facts

-According to the US Census Bureau, the country’s top turkey-producing state is Minnesota, which produced 46.5 million turkeys in 2011

-The Guinness Book of World Records states that the biggest pie ever made weighed in at 2,020 pounds and was over 12 feet long.

-The first Thanksgiving day football game occurred in 1934 between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears.  The game was broadcast by NBC radio and went out on 94 different stations nationwide.  Since then, the Lions have played on every single Thanksgiving (excluding 1939 and 1944).