By Emma Kaden
The First Thanksgiving took place in November 1621, and back then Thanksgiving was a way to celebrate the discovery of America. The pilgrims (supposedly) feasted on waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. You probably can’t imagine having lobster at your Thanksgiving meal, right? That’s because the United States—and Thanksgiving—has evolved a lot since the 1600s.
Most Americans know what foods belong on this year’s Thanksgiving table: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin or pecan pie, dinner rolls—the whole shebang. Yet what not every American knows is how Thanksgiving dinner has evolved since that first fateful feast in 1621.
The First Thanksgiving
When Thanksgiving was first celebrated, pumpkin pie wasn’t even in existence—and, years later, when the first pumpkin pie recipes were written, it was made much more like an apple pie than the pumpkin pie modern Americans know so well. Another food that wasn’t on the table was turkey, although that might be hard to fathom for some Americans today. Instead of unwrapping a Butterball and baking it, the pilgrims enjoyed whatever food was fruitful. This meant taking advantage of natural resources so that the whole community was able to enjoy the feast.
In fact, when the first Thanksgiving rolled around, it really was the whole community—the 53 surviving pilgrims. Yet somehow, as time went on, the community-wide gathering of Thanksgiving turned into something celebrated only by families, with community gatherings being the exception rather than the rule.
Evolution of Thanksgiving
As time passed, Thanksgiving became less of a festival and more of a tradition, and in 1863, more than two centuries after the first Thanksgiving, then-President Abraham Lincoln established a national holiday for Thanksgiving to be celebrated, on November 22nd. Since then, not only have Americans been given time off of work and school to celebrate Thanksgiving, but many Americans take off extra time to spend time with family, as far away as they might be.
Not only are Americans leaving their homes to travel to see their families for the Thanksgiving holiday, they are leaving their homes to eat Thanksgiving dinner, too. According to a poll from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 43 percent of Americans have Thanksgiving dinner away from home, 7 percent more than in 1986. As American culture changes, so does Thanksgiving, but it’s important to remember the origins of Thanksgiving.
Celebrating as a Community
As Americans enjoy their mashed potatoes and gravy, they ought to remember what it was like for the pilgrims. They celebrated, as one, their community and the very fact that they were alive—and that’s a lesson all Americans can learn from. This Thanksgiving, one can only hope that Americans will come together as a community and cherish the very country they live in.