Happy Thanksgiving, on this day, one of the most American of all American holidays.
The modern day Thanksgiving with its emphasis on shopping, and football, or how much you can eat is nothing like the first Thanksgiving. The first thanksgiving gathering, in November of 1621, was truly about celebrating being alive, the fall harvest, and preparing for the winter. The 53 Mayflower survivors, “First Comers” along with several other ships, set out for America in 1620. They landed in Plymouth in December of 1620.
By November of 1621 they had survived one year and were preparing for winter. Edward Winslow, one of the Mayflower “First Comers”, writes:
“our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God,
we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.”
And from William Bradford, another “First Comer”:
“They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; For as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their
portion. All ye somer ther was no want. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.”
The paintings of that first Thanksgiving are idealized of course, but they are probably what Americans envisions for that day. It seems a shame to me that so many of our traditions and holidays are now focused on shopping and sales, and really have no resemblance of what the original holiday was about.
Norman Rockwell’s famous depiction of Thanksgiving, 1942. What Rockwell said of this famous turkey scene, “our cook, Mrs. Wheaton, roasted it, I painted it, and we ate it.”
Thanks to the website http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.com