“And although it be not always so plentiful,” wrote Edward Winslow in 1621, “it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God.”
For the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, it was a hard-won harvest. But despite months of hardship and privation, they had much to be thankful for: the aid of the Wampanoag tribe, the promise of food to see them through winter, and for the home they built in a new world.
As we join our loved ones around the dinner table this year, we’ll be celebrating the 400th anniversary of that first Thanksgiving. In honor of the occasion, here are a few things you may not know about the holiday:
- The first Thanksgiving lasted for days (and probably wasn’t in November). According to Winslow’s letter, food was so plentiful that the Pilgrims “entertained and feasted” with the neighboring tribe for three full days. The harvest feast most likely took place between September and mid-November.
- The menu was a little different. Wild turkey may have been on the table (along with other fowl like ducks, geese, and even passenger pigeons) but venison and seafood likely played a starring role. There were no potatoes at all – they hadn’t yet arrived in North America from the Caribbean and South America – and it would be several decades before settlers began to make bread stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Some classic foods did make an appearance, however. The Pilgrims most likely harvested and enjoyed pumpkin, corn, squash, green beans, chestnuts, and whole cranberries.
- It took nearly two centuries to catch on. While harvest festivals were likely common, it took about 240 years before Americans started celebrating Thanksgiving in earnest. Writer Sarah Josepha Hale, a native New Englander, had grown up with Thanksgiving as a local holiday, and she urged others to take up the old tradition once again.
When the Civil War broke out in the 1860s, she redoubled her efforts, urging Americans to “put aside sectional feelings” and share in a meal that symbolized peace and connection. In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving would become a permanent national observance.
While we’ve added new trappings to the holiday over the intervening centuries – including football, parades, family visits and Black Friday – the spirit of gratitude and community remains the same. We still pause from our busy year to join hands around the table, spend time with our loved ones, and express our thanks for what we have.
Given our namesake, Thanksgiving is particularly special at The Mayflower – and this year, as always, we’re thankful for the countless caring, gracious and friendly people who call our community home.
We’d love to welcome you for a visit! To learn more or schedule a tour, send us a message or give us a call at 407-672-1620.