Thanksgiving is the most American of all holidays. Now highly commercialized, the real meaning of the holiday has been essentially pushed aside so stores can get on with the Black Friday and Christmas shopping rush.
The first Thanksgiving involved bringing in the harvest in a little English colony struggling to get a foothold in what would later become Massachusetts.
The year was 1621, and the celebration was to be observed by order of Governor William Bradford.
After suffering through a near-disastrous previous winter and early spring during which nearly half of the original colonists died, this harvest was intended as a religious celebration. Thus, Thanksgiving has definitive historical roots in religion, though it has long been celebrated as a secular holiday as well.
Some of the men of the Pilgrim colony went out into the woods and shot assorted foul including ducks, geese or even turkeys, and brought them back to be served as part of the festive dinner.
Edward Winslow described the first Thanksgiving in a letter written later to a friend. It wasn’t just a one-day event. He wrote,
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men out fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. 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 we 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 at 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.”
The people also enjoyed venison, onions, herbs, cranberries, currants and watercress, all of which grew wild in the area. The celebration may have included some wild honey, too.
In addition, walnuts, chestnuts and beechnuts were served. There was some shellfish, as fishing was so common, as well as beans, pumpkins, squash and corn (served in the form of porridge), thanks to the Wampanoag tribe.
What the Pilgrims and Indians did not eat were potatoes (white or sweet), bread stuffing, pie, (wheat flour was extremely rare) or green bean casserole.
The first official Thanksgiving proclamation was issued by President Washington in 1789, setting aside a day of Thanksgiving for Congress to adopt.
President Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863, to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.
Having been blessed with comparative prosperity ever since, and high standards of living most of the time, there are many reasons to be thankful in these United States.