By Alanna Anderson
When you think of Thanksgiving, you may smell the teasing aroma of cinnamon from pumpkin pie, and see steam from a hot casserole. Or, maybe, you’re at a restaurant watching the waiters and waitresses scramble around to make it feel like home for their own feast. Wherever you are, and whoever you’re with, you’re doing something on Thanksgiving. We all have our own specific way of celebrating this holiday, but what was it like before our time? When the Native Americans and pilgrims sat together in 1621, did they suck cranberry sauce off of their fingers and watch a game? While they actually did neither of these, they did have a celebration notable enough that it carries on today.
“Remember to be grateful for the little things.”
First and foremost, some background information. Thanksgiving is often thought to have been made official by the pilgrims, but in reality the holiday wasn’t even popular or celebrated by all states for a while. Even when it wasn’t popular, there were other states (such as Texas) that claim to have people that celebrated it before the pilgrims. It wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday. The decision to do so wasn’t instantaneous and it took the support of citizens, housewives especially. Writers such as Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, various cookbooks, and the editor of a magazine called Godley’s Lady’s Book, also helped the holiday be recognized. Something to take note of is the fact that Thanksgiving was about celebrating the harvest and reflecting on the struggles that were overcome. Another important fact to remember is that the pilgrims didn’t call the holiday “Thanksgiving,” it was just a “harvest festival.”
Now, it’s time for a little imagining. Close your eyes and imagine the perfect Thanksgiving. Does the delicious blend of food and companionship lift your mood? Can you see the golden skin of a stuffed turkey roasted to perfection in the center of a cloth-covered table? The same cloth-covered table that holds sweet potatoes next to cranberry sauce, and creamy gravy across from smooth pumpkin pie with golden, flaky crust. This isn’t what the Native Americans and Pilgrims saw. In fact, turkey wasn’t even that important to them. We know from Plymouth Colony governor William Bradford that they ate wild turkey, but they believed that waterfowl was the one who deserved the most love. Meat from waterfowl (which include duck, geese, swan, and eagle) was the most desired meat at the feast, and on the side was venison (deer), pigeon, eels, and shellfish. Other than these “delectable dishes,” porridge, peas, walnuts, plums, onions, carrots, and Indian corn also had a spot on the menu. What they didn’t have was pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce because they lacked the supplies for it. Men would go hunting together for “bro-time” and when they came back the women would tirelessly prepare the food. Aspects of this carry on today, except it is more common for a man to go “hunting” at a supermarket than outdoors, and men’s presence in the kitchen has notably increased.
After reading that, you may wonder how exactly the modern Thanksgiving came to be. Other than the fact that people love to eat and want an opportunity to eat more, an important reason was social impact and the introduction of modern traditions into an old, slightly unknown holiday. Many cookbook writers incorporated more elaborate recipes in their books that encouraged housewives (which, the majority of wives were at the time) to feel that Thanksgiving was cool, and fun, and something that any respectable family should be involved with. And really, who didn’t want to prove that they were a respectable family in the 1800s? America began to realize that they were missing out on food, and tradition, and impressing people.
There’s also the fact that modern America has the resources to trade and export that were not available back then, making it nearly impossible for the partakers of the Plymouth Thanksgiving to have things such as sweet potatoes.
This varies from the typical image that we have of Thanksgiving today: the indoor celebration with the exaggerated turkey decorations hanging all over the place, and the odd candle names being advertised on TV and home magazines. There’s also the obvious difference that the Native Americans and pilgrims weren’t able to cram themselves into a living room to watch football together. There was no celebrating or groaning at a touchdown that was made, or name calling at a player who just wasn’t playing the way they should’ve been, or playing just a bit too well.
In actuality they had their feast outdoors. Just imagine trying to fit everyone into those houses of theirs! Instead of watching TV, they made do with what they had by playing games like “stool ball,”which is basically just volleyball. There was also the typical running games which, to put it simply, entailed running. “Catch” was a common game as well as shooting marbles through a “knicker box” and playing the “Pin Game.” Compared to other things about the feast, what they did for entertainment isn’t widely known. Apparently, they collectively decided that telling the future about food was important though.
Whatever it is that you get up to on Thanksgiving — whether it’s causing mischief with family, acquaintances, friends, or by yourself — remember to be grateful for the little things. Life definitely has its struggles but there are small things to be happy about too. Take indoor plumbing for an example, something that we take for granted but has unfortunately been scarce in earlier eras. Take this time to reflect on the things around you that fill you with joy — even if the amount is small. Despite the fact that we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving the way that we did before we still have at least one thing in common, and that’s that the holiday is a time to be joyful, and thankful, and loving.
Alanna Anderson is a Sophomore at Barbara Ingram.