Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Was the first Thanksgiving Day really a day of giving thanks?

   What we refer to as the first Thanksgiving would not have been considered a day of giving thanks to the colonists.  A day of thanksgiving to the colonists would have been a day of prayer and fasting.
   This event was no such thing.  It wasn't a meal or even a day.  It was a three-day feast that included dancing, singing and games that certainly would not have been part of a religious holiday for the pilgrims.
   In the culture of the Wampanoag Indians in attendance, acknowledgment or prayer would have been offered daily for each individual provision, whether meat or plant.  The idea of setting aside a day, or even three, for being thankful wouldn't have fit with their culture either.

Who invited all these people?

   There were only four married women and five teenage girls at this meal.  Along with the women's four husbands, there were also 8 teenage boys, thirteen young children and seventeen unmarried men.
   The Wampanoag Indians arrived with a contribution of  five deer and 90 guests.  Were the women expecting 90 guests?

Wampanoag Indian

The pilgrims were all dressed in black and white, right?

   Weren't the pilgrims all dressed in black and white with gold buckles?  Despite the illustrations in children's books and the construction paper crafts our children proudly create, buckles were not part of the fashion for day, either on shoes or belts.  The pilgrims were more likely wearing read and other colors.  Black and white clothing was reserved for Sundays.

So were the pilgrims and the Native Americans all sitting around talking and enjoying each other's company?

   Well, while there may have been a festive mood, talking between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag would have been limited by the language barrier.  Communication would have gone through Squanto, a member of the Patuxet tribe, who had learned English from earlier settlers.

At least they ate turkey, didn't they?

   Maybe, maybe not.  Primary sources refer to "wild fowl", which may have been turkey but could also have been goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge or eagle.  Pass the Swan please!  Regardless of the fowl, we do know that the Wampanoag Indians provided five deer, so venison was part of the feast.  This is quite a hostess gift.

So was the first Thanksgiving near the end of November?

   Abraham Lincoln mad the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate today official in 1863, some 242 years later.  Surely he chose the fourth Thursday in November to coincide with the feast in 1863, right?  Wrong.  Although not pinpointed, we do know that the feast in 1863 occurred after September 21st but before November 4th.

Boiled pumpkin anyone?

   With no oven for baking and no sugar, pumpkin was most likely boiled and not in a pie.
   Whether the pilgrims wore black or red, ate swan or turkey, is less important than recognizing that the first Thanksgiving was a festive celebration.  The first Thanksgiving may not have happened the way it is often described and illustrated in children's book but it was quite an event.



  1. Great information and pictures. I also have studied the original Thanksgiving and was intrigued by the actual events. Do you know whether these pictures are free public domain?

  2. Thanks, I got the pics from google pics. Most of the time if they're not used making money they can be used. I've only had 1 problem with pics and I just removed the picture in question.

    1. Nice job on the great information and pictures! It was so good I could read it over and over again.

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