the first celebration
Oleh Willa Lydia Sullivan -
Moderator Forum & Tim Baksos International
1621, the Plymouth colonist and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn
harvest feast which is acknowledge today as one of the first
Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonist. This harvest meal has become
a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and
Native Americans (Indians). Although this feast is considered by many to
the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with
a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving throughout the
Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others
organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations
of Thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North
Pilgrim woman keeps a watchful eye on
the evening’s supper at Plimoth Plantation.
Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of Thanks among European
settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley
Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December
1619 a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in
prayer and pledged "Thanksgiving" to God for their healthy arrival after
a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by
some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among
European settlers on record. Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation,
or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks, and particularly of
the feast, have survived the centuries as people throughout the United
States gather family, friends, and enormous amount of food for their
yearly Thanksgiving meal.
What Was Actually On The Menu?
What food topped the table at the first harvest feast? Historians aren't
completely certain about the full bounty, but it's safe to say the
pilgrims weren't gobbling up pumpkin pie or playing with their mashed
potatoes. Following is a list of foods that were available to the
colonist at the time of the 1621 feast. However, the only two items that
historians know for sure were on the menu are venison and wild fowl,
which are mentioned in primary sources. The most detailed description of
the "First Thanksgiving" comes Edward Winslow from A Journal of the
Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent men on fowling, that so
we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered
the fruit 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 among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of 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 upon 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."
Seventeenth Century Table Manner
The pilgrims didn't use forks; they ate with spoons, knives, and their
fingers. They wiped their hands on large cloth napkins, which they also
used to pick up hot morsels of food. Salt would have been on the table
at the harvest feast, and the people would have sprinkled it on their
food. Pepper, however, was something that they used for cooking but was
not available on the table.
In the seventeenth century, the person's social standing determined what
he or she ate. The best food was placed next to the most important
people. People did not tend to sample everything that was on the table
(as we do today), they just ate what closest to them.
Serving in the seventeenth century was very different from serving
today. People were not served their meals individually. Foods were
served onto the table and then people took the food from the table and
ate it. All the servers had to do was move the food from the place where
it was cooked onto the table.
Pilgrims did not eat in courses as we do today. All of the different
types of foods were placed on the table at the same time and people ate
in any order they chose. Sometimes there were two courses, but each of
them would contain meat dishes, puddings, and sweets.
More Meat, Less Vegetables
Our Thanksgiving repast is centered around the turkey, but that
certainly wasn't the case at the pilgrims feasts. Their meals included
many different meats. Vegetable dishes, one of the main components of
our modern celebration did not really play a large part in the feast
mentally of the seventeenth century. Depending on the time of year, many
vegetables were not available to the colonists.
The pilgrims probably did not have pies or anything sweet at the harvest
feast. They had brought some sugar with them on the Mayflower but by the
time of the feast, the supply had dwindled. In addition, they did not
have an oven so pies, cakes, and breads were not possible at all. The
food that was eaten at the harvest feast would have seemed fatty by
1990's standards, but it was probably healthier for the pilgrims than it
would be for people today. Heart attack was the least of their worries.
They were more concerned about the plague and pox.
Surprisingly Spicy Cooking
People tend to think of English food at bland, but in fact, the pilgrims
used many spices, including cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, and dried
fruit, in sauces for meats. In the seventeenth century, cooks did not
use proportions or talk about teaspoon and tablespoons. Instead, they
just improvised. The best way to cook things in the seventeenth century
was to roast them. Among the pilgrims, someone was assigned to sit for
hours at a time and turn the spit to make sure the meat was evenly done.
Dinner for Breakfast: Pilgrims Meals
The biggest meal of the day for the colonists was eaten at noon and it
was called “nonmeat” or dinner. The homemakers would spend part of their
morning cooking that meal. Supper was a smaller meal that they had at
the end of the day. Breakfast tended to be leftovers from the previous
In a pilgrim household, the adults sat down to eat and the children and
servants waited on them. The foods that the colonists and Wampanoag
Indians ate were very similar, but their eating patterns were different.
While the colonists had set, eating pattern—breakfast, dinner, and
supper—the Wampanoag tended to eat when they were hungry and to have
pots cooking throughout the day.
Holidays, especially ones that
involve lots of concentrated family time can test our emotions,
patience, and our best intentions to get along with loved ones.
Here are some tips to help you weather the next few days...after
1. Pace yourself while traveling;
To be with friends and family members, but be aware during long-distance
drives of the risk of drowsy drinking. If you are flying, leave plenty
of extra time because the airport are extra crowded, and you will want
to avoid the stress of rushing.
2. Do not drink and drive;
Be cautious about drinking alcohol to excess during the holidays, and
especially do not drink and drive!
3. Schedule social event wisely;
Attending too many gatherings can leave you exhausted and unable to take
pleasure in the holidays. Doing too few can leave you feeling alone and
melancholic. Because routine and activities are suspended. Avoid large
gaps of time spent alone.
4. Celebrate wherever you are;
One of the most memorable Thanksgiving was spent on-call at the
hospital. Those of us working that day planned ahead and brought in
5. Be mentally and emotionally present;
Enjoy this year celebration; do not try to recreate past holidays-that
will just create anxiety. Parents and children should allow their
relationships to mature.
6. Savor the time spent together;
If you are visiting with older relatives, learn more about your heritage
before it is too late. Make sure that all the generations can
participate in festivities, and that everyone has a role to play.
7. Be thankful; remember it is
thanksgiving—we all have a lot to be grateful for—share your
thankfulness with others.