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Native Americans were the first people to live in America. Learn more about the Native Americans and the origins of Thanksgiving.

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The first Thanksgiving was celebrated between the Pilgrims and the Indians in 1621.That first feast was a three day affair. Life for the early settlers was difficult. The fall harvest was time for celebration. It was also a time of prayer, thanking God for a good crop. The Pilgrims and the Indians created a huge feast including a wide variety of animals and fowl, as well as fruits and vegetables from the fall harvest. This early celebration was the start of today's Thanksgiving celebration.

In the USA, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October. The first Thanksgiving in the USA was a feast in 1621 shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, who shared their corn, squash, and wild turkeys. This first feast was not repeated until over a decade later. Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. In Canada, Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by the Canadian Parliament in 1879.

The first Thanksgiving is a celebration that has been carried out by each generation. It's a time when families get together to relax, have a delicious dinner and enjoy being with family and friends. The first Thanksgiving was proclaimed in 1621 by Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony to give thanks for a bountiful harvest after several seasons of privation. Both colonists and neighboring Indians attended. The first national Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1789, was called by President George Washington. At the urging of Sarah L. Hale, President Abraham Lincoln revived the Thanksgiving custom, decreeing that it be held on the last Thursday in November.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the third Thursday in November in 1939, 1940 and in 1941. In 1941, Congress passed a joint resolution that Thanksgiving would be held on the fourth Thursday. A number of churches and other charitable organizations will serve Thanksgiving dinners to the poor, the elderly, and the homeless. The Friday after Thanksgiving is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year.

That day, most of us enjoy Turkey with "all the trimming". The "trimming" includes a wide variety of foods that are a tradition for your family. Those traditional foods often replicate the foods at the first Thanksgiving feast. While others, are traditional ethnic or religious groups' recipes, or a special food item that your family always serves at Thanksgiving dinner. Then, to top it off, apple pies, an even mince meat pies are bountiful around the table.

The American traditions of Thanksgiving revolve around a huge and lavish meal, usually with Turkey as the centerpiece. For those who do not like Turkey, a Roast or Prime Rib is common. As tradition has it in most families, a special prayer of thanks precedes the meal. In many homes, family members will each mention something they are very thankful for. Tucked between the two monster sized holidays of Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving receives far less attention. But Thanksgiving is a very important holiday, especially in the busy lives of Americans. It is a time to kick back and relax, watch a football game or go to a movie, and enjoy a huge feast. It's also time for us to give thanks to our God, for the things he has bestowed upon us and upon this great nation. There is no nation in the world that has more to be thankful for than us.

Following is a list of the foods that were available to the colonists 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 Pilgrims' Menu

Foods That May Have Been on the Menu

Seafood: Cod, Eel, Clams, Lobster

Wild Fowl: Wild Turkey, Goose, Duck, Crane, Swan, Partridge, Eagles

Meat: Venison, Seal

Grain: Wheat Flour, Indian corn

Vegetables: Peas, Beans, Onions, Lettuce, Radish, Carrots

Fruit: Plums, Grapes

Nuts: Walnuts, Chestnuts, Acorns

Herbs and Seasonings: Olive Oil, Liverwort, Leeks, Dried Currants, Parsnips

What was not on the Menu?

Surprisingly, the following foods, all considered staples of the modern Thanksgiving meal, didn't appear on the pilgrim's first feast table:
Ham: There is no evidence that the colonists had butchered a pig by this time, though they had brought pigs with them from England.
Sweet Potatoes/Potatoes: These were not common.
Corn on the Cob: Corn was kept dried out at this time of year.
Cranberry Sauce: The colonists had cranberries but no sugar at this time.
Pumpkin Pie: It's not a recipe that exists at this point, though the pilgrims had recipes for stewed pumpkin.
Chicken/Eggs: We know that the colonists brought hens with them from England, but its unknown how many had left at this point or whether the hens were still laying.
Milk: No cows had been aboard the Mayflower, though it's possible that the colonists used goat milk to make cheese.

In 1621 the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is now known as the first Thanksgiving. While cooking methods and table etiquette have changed as the holiday has evolved, the meal is still consumed today with the same spirit of celebration and overindulgence.

Thanksgiving around the World

Thanksgiving in Canada is much the same as it is in the United States; however, it is observed on a different day - the second Monday in October. In other parts of the world, different cultures also celebrate festivals of thanksgiving. Although they are quite different than the American holiday, they all revolve around giving thanks for life's blessings and the celebration of the autumn harvest. Jewish people around the globe celebrate Sukkot, a festival of thanksgiving that lasts nine days. For this occasion, a Jewish family will build a booth called Sukka. It is then decorated with leaves, branches, and fruits or vegetables from the new harvest. Tables are set up inside the Sukka, so meals can be eaten inside. The Sukka is also a place to pray. In Great Britain, Harvest festival is observed in late September or October. Special services of thanksgiving are held at local churches to honor the day. Decorations include autumn flowers, fruits, vegetables and other food.

In southern India, people in Kerala hold the harvest festival of Onam. Samaritans deliver food to those in need and homes are decorated with flowers. The celebration continues late into the night with spectacular displays of fireworks.A Lithuanian thanksgiving tradition involves the creation of a boba (meaning old woman) from the last sheaf of grain at harvest time. The grain is fashioned into a doll shape and decorated with ribbons and flowers. Keeping the boba until spring is believed to keep the spirit of the crop alive until replanting begins the following year.The Festival of the Autumn Moon, or Zhong Qui, is the Chinese celebration of thanksgiving. It is held on the eighth month of the Chinese calendar. The Moon Goddess is honored with moon cakes, and children parade with colored lanterns in the evening.

What do historians know about Thanksgiving?

There are many myths surrounding Thanksgiving. Here are nine things we know are true about the holiday. The first Thanksgiving was a harvest celebration in 1621 that lasted for three days. The feast most likely occurred between Sept. 21 and Nov. 11. Approximately 90 Wampanoag Indians and 52 colonists - the latter mostly women and children - participated. The Wampanoag, led by Chief Massasoit, contributed at least five deer to the feast. Cranberry sauce, potatoes - white or sweet - and pies were not on the menu. The Pilgrims and Wampanoag communicated through Squanto, a member of the Patuxet tribe, who knew English because he had associated with earlier explorers. Besides meals, the event included recreation and entertainment. There are only two surviving descriptions of the first Thanksgiving. One is in a letter by colonist Edward Winslow. He mentions some of the food and activities. The second description was in a book written by William Bradford 20 years later. His account was lost for almost 100 years.

Abraham Lincoln named Thanksgiving an annual holiday in 1863.


Books on the Native Americans

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Links to other sites on Native Americans

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The First Thanksgiving http://www.scholastic.com/scholastic%5Fthanksgiving/
The First Thanksgiving http://www.law.ou.edu/ushistory/thanksgiv.shtml
The Pilgrim's 1621 Thanksgiving http://members.aol.com/calebj/thanksgiving.html
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth http://www.pilgrimhall.org/f_thanks.htm
Thanksgiving History http://www.kidsdomain.com/holiday/thanks/hlinks.html
Thanksgiving http://www.orenoque.com/thanksgiving/
Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims http://www.picadome.fcps.net/lab/currl/
Language Arts Projects http://www.tlt.ab.ca/projects/gradelevels/gr3_misc.html

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