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We all have done productions of the "First Thanksgiving" at some point in grade school. It showed several children dressed in black garb with black buckled hats. Others dressed in tan outfits and feathers to portray the Indians at the feast. It makes you wonder, was the first Thanksgiving dinner really like that?


Here’s the scoop. The Pilgrims arrived by way of the Mayflower ship on Plymouth Rock in late 1620. The first winter was rough for them and a great number of them died. Not only did they have problems with coming to a new land, adjusting to the freezing temperatures and different land, there was also the problem of communicating with the land’s current occupants, the Native Americans.

Now, it is not widely known that the Pilgrims did in fact celebrate a time of giving thanks each year even before the “First Thanksgiving” in the New World. By the following autumn, many more of the Pilgrims had died from illness. The remaining Pilgrims were to eat such a meal with the leader of the Native American tribe, Massasoit and his men.

In our renditions of the first Thanksgiving dinner there was Tom Turkey all trussed up in white booties and a pumpkin pie to boot. But this was not the case in the Massachusetts’ settlement. The main meat dish on the first Thanksgiving table in America actually consisted of deer and wild fowl.

Today we do not choose these same dishes for our own Thanksgiving meals, however, we do not face the hardships the Pilgrims did, including the fear of starving to death or dying of other illnesses due to lack of food. So, deer and other wild poultry was a huge feast for them. Another food that adorns many holiday dinner tables in modern times is potatoes and green string beans. These were also not part of the Indian and Pilgrim menu.

Pilgrims were not used to the land they had come to find and this was very obvious in the numbers of them that passed away due to lack of food. They didn’t know how to plant vegetables like the Indians did. It was almost winter time again and not too many vegetables were still available for this meal of thanks. They settled for whatever they could get.

While we today are big on stuffing with our Thanksgiving bird, none of that could be found on the Pilgrim’s plate, at least not that first Thanksgiving dinner. Bread of no kind made it on the list either. Trying to survive, the Pilgrims hadn’t built proper ovens or hearths for cooking yet. In fact, anything that needed an oven was nixed. No apple or pumpkin pies or cakes of any variety.

So, what DO we get right in our yearly “First Thanksgiving” productions? Well, not much really. Corn and other foods that had been dried earlier in the year were available along with a large amount of meat. But, when you worked as hard as the Pilgrims did to build an entire settlement from nothing, meat would stick to your bones and give you strength, so that was the main item that mattered.

So, when someone says to you that your meal is non-traditional, tell them that any Thanksgiving dinner that doesn’t feature large portions of meat with no veggies, breads, or sweets in sight, are non-traditional. Instead, create your own traditions and remember, the main purpose of this holiday is to give thanks for the bounty, whatever that may or may not be.

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2 comments

Cindy said... @ 11/18/2008 5:06 PM

Great post. The more I learn about the Pilgrims, the more I find out that what I learned in school was completely wrong. I read a book about a year ago called Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. It's one of those historic books that reads more like a fiction novel while remaining true to documented events. It's an excellent book.

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Julie@Cool Mom Guide said... @ 11/22/2008 3:10 PM

Do you have a button I can add to my site?

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