We know all about the first Thanksgiving, right? The big feast when the pilgrims invited the Native American Indians to celebrate the fall harvest? After all, it's recorded in our history books. But would it surprise you to learn the version we know is a combination of a few facts, some fiction, and a lot of guesses?
That some kind of event occurred appears to be fact, but the details are a bit sketchy. While we're enjoying our families and traditions this holiday week, let's take a look at that first feast and why we still celebrate it today.
When did it happen:
It's generally accepted that the original fall feast in this country occurred sometime between September and November 1621, following the first successful harvest. The colonists were perpetuating the tradition of the Harvest Festival brought from the continent to give thanks for sufficient food to carry them through another winter. (http://historyofmassachusetts.org/the-first-thanksgiving/)
Who was there:
William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony, and the other men and women (approximately half of the original 102) who had survived the first harsh winter were joined by Massosoit and 90 of his Wampanoag American Indian tribe. Whether this was by invitation or the first instance of party-crashing isn't clear, but the feasting lasted three days. (http://www.ushistory.org/us/3b.asp)
What was on the menu:
Waterfowl, wild turkey, venison, fish, Indian corn, bread of some kind, probably onions, squash, beans. No potatoes, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie. (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-was-on-the-menu-at-the-first-thanksgiving-511554/?no-ist)
When and why did it become a national holiday:
On Oct. 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November would be a national day of giving thanks. This was following a pivotal battle at Gettysburg during the Civil War and was seen by many as a political decision to start to bring the country back together.
This wasn't the first attempt to nationalize the holiday (http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2015/11/10-surprising-thanksgiving-facts/), but it was the one that has lasted.
As we gather around our own tables this holiday, giving thanks for family and friends, we--like Lincoln--must hope the days ahead will heal our nation and remind us how very blessed we are.