Everything You Wanted to Know about Thanksgiving

“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”
– Jon Stewart

  • The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1863. Well, that’s when it became an official holiday in the United States. Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for the new holiday, partly an attempt to assuage the nation’s deep divide during the Civil War.
  • The real first Thanksgiving, to celebrate and express gratitude for a bountiful harvest, lasted three days at Plymouth Colony. Over the following decades, Thanksgiving observance became an annual tradition in New England.
  • Only a few women partook of the Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony in 1621. That’s because only four of the twenty women who arrived on the Mayflower survived the first winter. By that time, about half of the approximately fifty colonists were children and teenagers.
  • Native Americans outnumbered colonists by about two to one. Ninety men from the nearby Wampanoag joined the colonists. They soon became BFF with the Pilgrims.
  • There was no Black Friday shopping after the First Thanksgiving as there were no retail stores. And there was no UPS to deliver Amazon parcels. Nor was there NFL football, as the Pilgrims had no television.
  • Native Americans had no tradition of formal Thanksgiving; giving thanks was integral to daily life. “Every time anybody went hunting or fishing or picked a plant, they would offer a prayer or acknowledgment.”
  • Wild turkeys were abundant in the region, but probably not a centerpiece of the feast. Goose and duck and even pigeon were the wildfowl of choice. Eels and shellfish, such as lobster, clams and mussels, likely were on the table. No mashed potatoes and gravy; potatoes, white or sweet, had not yet made their way to North America. Cranberry sauce? It was not until fifty years later that an Englishman reported what resulted from boiling the red berries with sugar.
  • Thanksgiving at Plymouth colony began the centuries of friendship between European immigrants and Native Americans. America’s manifest destiny even gave inspiration to Adolph Hitler and his lebensraum.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving. If you need a conversation starter at the dinner table, try “How about that impeachment?”