It’s been some time since I shared a book on my shelf, and look what I found… Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday, by the Director of Research at Plimoth Plantation, James W. Baker.
This book is extensive, as it should be, considering the source. So I have chosen to share a few nuggets with you, things that I found interesting or new to me…so dig in!
You know the answer: the Pilgrims were thankful for their survival. But do you know the whole story?
Why not an anniversary of the Pilgrim’s arrival? Well, the Puritans are known for their strict view of the world, but did you know they didn’t celebrate any church holidays? Not even Christmas or Easter.
They were turned off by the number of saints days—at one point there were 147 saints days in the Anglican Church—and they felt calendar holidays to be hollow and meaningless. Puritans focused on God’s presence in their daily lives, not events that happened hundreds of years ago.
So they mostly just held their weekly services (they went to meeting, not church), but in addition, special observances could be called for, based on events in the community:
Fast Days—these were in response to especially negative events that were perceived as “judgements” God had visited upon the flock: droughts, floods, plagues and the like. As the name suggests, there was no gobble-gobble happening. These days were devoted to prayer and humiliation, soul searching and repenting.
A Fast Day could also be held prior to an important event as a way to ask for guidance and favor.
Thanksgiving Days—in contrast, when God had bestowed some favor or providence as they liked to call it, on the congregation, such as a good harvest, it called for acknowledgement. Yes, more “meeting” but followed by a special feast! Party on, Puritan-style!
Both Thanksgivings and Fasts could be called for community-wide, or observed on a personal, family-level based on personal need.
HERE’S THE KICKER…
Scholars feel the First Thanksgiving in 1621 wasn’t a true day of thanksgiving! How can that be? Well…
There was no meeting.
The party went on for days.
Guests from outside the community…the Native Americans…were present.
So it was really just a party!
Certain foods served at that famous feast in 1621 are still considered Thanksgiving fare to this day. Sure, the meal was based on what was available, but as always, there is more to know…
Turkey was considered a delicacy in England. A.k.a., fancy-people food. Which seems to fly in the face of Puritanism, but even they didn’t want to seem poor. So turkeys (and rabbits believe it or not!) also made the voyage on the Mayflower. Just in case.
(Not to worry, Pilgrims! Gangs of turkeys still roam the Boston area like they own the place.)
Pumpkin was not actually a fan favorite. It was a cheap way to feed a lot of people, but rather tasteless. Hence the addition of available spices, and whipped cream…well ok, maybe not whipped cream.
Cranberries were introduced to the Pilgrim diet by the locals, and were found to be good for “the Scurvy” and to “allay the fervour of hot diseases,” as well as being a tasty compliment to turkey when boiled with sugar into a sauce.
It is often assumed that the Pilgrims took up New World foodways, but for the most part they adapted native foods to their way of cooking, in particular the pie. Pies are an English tradition, and a staple at any Thanksgiving table.
Anything can go in a pie! Meat, pumpkin, berries, apples…mmm, hot apple pie…apples were a New England favorite! Pies were a great way to make food in advance and so a natural for celebratory feasts.
There is a ton more to learn about this all-American holiday, it’s growth from a local tradition to a national holiday, the cultural issues… so check out Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday…something to chew on before the carving of the turkey on Thursday! And after!
What are your special Thanksgiving traditions? Share them in the comments or over on Facebook, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!
SOURCE: Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday, by James W. Baker–of course!
Judith Baker says
I admire your level of enthusiasm Christina.
A topic for historical perspective: lighthouses.
All those summers in East Tawas and we never visited the Tawas Point Lighthouse. Last summer I lived there (and three more) for a week as the lighthouse keeper.
Judith Baker says
ps Yes, I did take note of the author’s name!
Christina Branham says
I noticed the name too! 🙂