I’m writing now from my parent’s home as we prepare for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. I’m happy to be home, and even happier that the big meal is just a few hours away. Meanwhile, as I smell that sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie baking in the oven, I wanted to share, as a reminder, a brief history of the first Thanksgiving.
A group of “Pilgrims” (as we call them now) left Plymouth, England in September of 1620 in search of a new life and religious freedom. These 102 religious separatists set sale on the Mayflower for the New World. Sixty-six days later they had crossed the Atlantic and docked at Cape Cod, a place far to the north of their intended destination. They set sail for another month and finally docked at the new Plymouth, in Massachusetts.
Their first winter in the new land was a devastating one, as most of the colonists chose to remain aboard the ship while the settlement was being built, and over half of those who had arrived died of exposure, scurvy, and disease. The survivors moved ashore when warm weather arrived in March.
To their surprise, they were greeted by two English-speaking Native Americans. One of them, Squanto, taught them survival skills, including how to cultivate corn, extract maple syrup, fish from the rivers, and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the Pilgrims forge an alliance with the local Indian tribe, an alliance that lasted more than 50 years.
After the first successful harvest in November 1621, Governor William Bradford organized a three-day festival – what we call today, the first “Thanksgiving.” The colonists and their Native American allies gathered to celebrate, eating traditional Native American fare such as deer, lobster, seal and swan, as well as local fruits and vegetables.
From then until the Civil War, Americans celebrated their thanks one or more days a year, until in 1863 Abraham Lincoln proclaimed November 26th as the nation’s official Thanksgiving Day, to be observed on the final Thursday of November each year.
So enjoy your meal, and remember to be thankful for all the good in your life.