Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday based on longstanding tradition, right? We eat the same foods, we gather with our friends and family, and we give thanks. Some of the truth about Thanksgiving, however, may come as a bit of a surprise to you. The facts show that much of Thanksgiving tradition has nothing to do with the original Thanksgiving at all, and some of what you’ve been assuming about both pilgrims and popular Thanksgiving fare might turn out to be just a bunch of turkey.
Everything we know about Thanksgiving comes from two short paragraphs. The first stanza was part of a letter written by Edward Winslow to a friend back in the year 1621. In this letter, Edward described the first Thanksgiving in this way:
"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 fruits 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 amongst 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 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."
William Bradford, in “Of Plymouth Plantation” wrote the following:
"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."
That’s pretty much it--most everything else we know about the original Thanksgiving has probably been made up, theorized or intelligently deduced.
At the first Thanksgiving, there was no turkey, cranberry sauce or even pumpkin pie. The first Thanksgiving celebration fare likely consisted of venison, wild fowl, cod, bass, and corn.
So, where did we the specific menu ideas for a traditional Thanksgiving Turkey dinner? To get to the source of Thanksgiving’s most popular food items, you have to go back to the woman who may be responsible for the Thanksgiving holiday in the first place. Back in the 1800’s, a woman named Sarah Hale began a campaign to make Thanksgiving a holiday. This campaign would end up spanning nearly twenty years. It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln was President that she finally got someone to pay any attention to her appeals. Sarah Hale was able to convince President Lincoln that the Thanksgiving holiday was just what the nation needed to heal as the Civil War was coming to an end. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as the new national Thanksgiving holiday. As part of Sarah Hale’s efforts to promote Thanksgiving, she published many editorials that were widely distributed. These articles contained suggestions and ideas for potential Thanksgiving holiday recipes. Amongst Sarah’s food ideas were Turkey and Stuffing, Pumpkin Pie, Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potatoes and Mashed Potatoes!
Did you know that FDR once changed the date of Thanksgiving? Back in 1939-1941, to extend the holiday shopping period that follows Thanksgiving, Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second to the last Thursday in November. Unfortunately, this change caused a lot of confusion nationwide, and many states simply refused to cooperate with the change. Finally, after Congress got involved in 1941, Thanksgiving was officially pronounced to be set on the fourth Thursday of November, which sometimes falls on the last Thursday of the month, other times on the second to the last Thursday of the month.
Did you know that only half the passengers on the Mayflower were pilgrims? The other half of the people on board were just strangers catching a ride to the new world.
And just a little bit about that Thanksgiving turkey….
Did you know that turkeys are specifically bred so that they will have huge breasts? This is because most people prefer the white meat of the turkey. The problem with these huge turkey breasts is that they get in the way of the natural breeding process. Thus, most modern hatcheries now use artificial insemination to fertilize the eggs of domestic turkeys.
91% of Americans will eat turkey on Thanksgiving, with over 280 million turkeys being sold just for the Thanksgiving holiday!
Happy Thanksgiving from your friends at Halloween Express!