The First Thanksgiving


The First Thanksgiving

As you gather around that beautifully cooked bird this Thanksgiving, take some time to think back to the first time this feast was celebrated. In 1621 the Pilgrims landed on American soil, entering a wilderness that they knew nothing about. After a brutal winter that took the lives of over half of their group, they Abnaki Native American tribe, who helped them plant their first crops.

The Pilgrims, or Plymouth colonists as they are now known, were not farmers. They knew little about farming in general, and even less about the new plants, such as corn, found in the New World. Without the help of the Abnaki people and the English-speaking Samoset and Squanto, these settlers may never have survived their first year. However, with the help of their native friends, the Pilgrims had a wonderful harvest in their first fall in the western hemisphere.

The first day of thanksgiving was officially designated by Governor William Bradford of Pilgrim Plantation. He invited the neighboring tribes to the celebration, and 90 braves attended the feast along with the settlers. While no documentation exists as to the exact date of the celebration, most historians believe it occurred some time in October. Along with eating, the participants played games, had races, and participated in skill demonstrations with muskets and bows and arrows. The menu of the first Thanksgiving bears some similarities to today's feast, but many modern dishes have been added, such as stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

To the Pilgrims, the day had a highly religious meaning. The first winter on the new land was brutal, and when spring arrived and the crops were planted, only 53 of the original 110 settlers remained in the group. The Pilgrims were giving thanks to God for His provisions in the harvest, and they were also giving thanks to their Native American friends. The Pilgrim Hall Museum offers more insight into the religious nature of the first Thanksgiving celebration.

The holiday was celebrated by many groups as American history unfolded, but it did not become an official holiday until 1863 when it was established by President Abraham Lincoln. As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, the information on these links will help you make it a fun celebration.