Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving_IndiansThanksgiving tradition tells us this holiday started in 1621 with the Pilgrims at the Plymouth Colony. The celebration was to commemorate the harvest after a harsh winter with Governor William Bradford proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving. The colonists celebrated with a traditional English harvest feast and invited the local Wampanoag Indians to join the feast.

While this started the tradition, the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims actually did not repeat the celebration annually in the ensuing years. Similar celebrations did occur throughout the colonies, which were all still based on the traditional English fall harvest celebration.

The 13 colonies first celebrated Thanksgiving on the same day in 1777 during the War for Independence. President George Washington first declared Thanksgiving a holiday in 1789. Various states celebrated the holiday but Thanksgiving became a national holiday when President Lincoln gave his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863 declaring the last Thursday in November a day of thanksgiving.

President Franklin Roosevelt moved the day to the third Thursday in 1939. The Thanksgiving holiday was then set again as the fourth Thursday in November by Congressional action; making Thanksgiving somewhat unique since it is celebrated on a particular day, not a particular date.

Larry_PilWhile we always see renderings of the original Pilgrims celebrating Thanksgiving dressed in all black and white with shiny buckles on their hats and shoes, their attire was probably, for the men, white or beige or brown and for the women red or earthy green, brown, blue or violet. Black and white were traditionally worn only on Sunday and at formal occasions.

As to the shiny buckles: Very doubtful since brass buckles did not come onto fashion until much later in the 17th century.

We also wonder what would have happened if the Pilgrims had sailed the Mayflower to their original destination on the Hudson River in New York?


The first Thanksgiving in 1621 probably had a somewhat different menu then we have today. While no definitive ‘menu’ exists from the Thanksgiving celebration in 1621, historians have been able to compile a list of foods that may have been served and a list of what was not on the menu. We’ve got both lists here plus a few fun facts about turkeys.

The first Thanksgiving feast was somewhat different to the fare that we traditionally serve our friends and family as we gather together to give thanks, watch the Macy’s Parade from New York while the turkey is cooking and then switch channels to catch all of the football games played on the fourth Thursday in November. Whew!

As we said, historians have been able to compile what may have been on that first Thanksgiving menu and what was not served:

  • Seafood served would be Cod, Eel, Clams and Lobster.
  • Wild Fowl was abundant: Wild Turkey, Goose, Duck, Crane, Swan, Partridge and Eagle.
  • Meat served would be Venison and Veal.
  • Grain was limited to Wheat Flour and Indian Corn.
  • Vegetables were varied: Pumpkin, Peas, Beans, Onions, Lettuce, Radishes and Carrots.
  • Fruit was probably limited to Plums and Grapes.
  • Nuts were Walnuts, Chestnuts and Acorns.
  • Herbs & Seasonings were varied and different than what we would think of today: Olive Oil, Liverwort, Leeks, Dried Currants and Parsnips.

As time progressed the traditional Thanksgiving dinner has taken on a basic form in terms of what we serve. Much of what we have all seen on our Thanksgiving tables as staples of the meal did not appear at the Pilgrim’s first feast. Here is list of what history tells us was not part of the menu:

  • Ham, which is now a staple of the meal in many homes, was not served. Although the Pilgrims brought pigs with them from England there is no evidence they had butchered any by the time of this first celebration.
  • Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes were not common at that time.
  • Corn on the Cob was not available as corn was kept dried out at this time of year.
  • Cranberry Sauce would have been almost impossible to serve as while the colonists did have cranberries, they had no sugar.
  • Pumpkin Pie was not a known recipe at that time although the Pilgrims did have a recipe for stewed pumpkin.
  • Milk was absent as the colonists did not bring cows on the Mayflower.


So we can see that what we look upon as the traditional Thanksgiving meal evolved over time and what we feast on today is quite different than the meal served at the first Thanksgiving.

Turkey Trivia

The turkey is actually a type of pheasant, just somewhat larger!

The turkey is the only poultry breed native to the Western Hemisphere.

A turkey has great hearing, sees in color and has a wide field of vision. Turkeys have an excellent sense of taste but a poor taste of smell, which may be a good thing!

Domesticated turkeys cannot fly.

Wild turkeys can fly short distances and attain speeds of up to 55 miles per hour.

Turkeys are susceptible to heart attack, maybe because they know that about 45 million will be cooked at Thanksgiving!

~~~ Have A Happy Thanksgiving ~~~