Let's Talk Turkey about Origin of Thanksgiving Traditions

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 23, 2003 | Go to article overview

Let's Talk Turkey about Origin of Thanksgiving Traditions


Byline: Diana Dretske

It's turkey time. In just a few days Americans will sit down for an enjoyable and traditional Thanksgiving feast.

But what are the origins of this tradition? Most experts believe that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 at Plymouth, Mass., between the Pilgrims and American Indians as a three-day Thanksgiving harvest celebration. Others have speculated that the settlers of Jamestown, Va., actually celebrated the first Thanksgiving (circa 1607) as their version of England's ancient harvest festival.

No matter the origin, the tradition is nearly 300 years old, and turkey is still center stage.

Despite modern belief, turkey was not new to the colonists. The Spaniards brought turkey, or what they called "Indian fowl," back to Spain from Mexico in the 1500s, and it was soon traded and eaten all over Europe. And what would the colonists have eaten with their turkey? Their feast would have included fish, venison, Indian corn, breads made from wheat flour, raspberries, grapes, plums, peas, pumpkins, beans, nuts, butter, cheese and eggs. They might have even had a pumpkin pudding sweetened with maple syrup. There would not have been cranberry sauce since there was no sugar available. Sweet potatoes had not yet been introduced to New England. The Pilgrims did not have pigs so there wouldn't have been any ham.

President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, reportedly after being pressured by Godey's Lady's Book editor Sara Josepha Hale. …

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