I love Thanksgiving for many reasons. First, it’s one of only two holidays that encourage most people to take time out from their busy lives and get together with their families. I think at least 30 people are expected at our family feast this year, which will be held in Michigan. Second, it’s all about being thankful, something that many people forget to do on the other days of their lives. But third, it’s all about sharing gardening and cooking secrets – which is really what the first Thanksgiving – way back in November 1621 – was all about.
In our family, Thanksgiving morning often starts with a walk through the vegetable garden, with sister-in-law Dorothy showing off her fall vegetables and letting us pick our favorites. In my opinion, Dorothy is the best gardener of the family – the one that can get anything to grow. She is, in effect, our Squanto.
If you don’t know about Squanto , he was, in many ways, the reason for the original Thanksgiving. There are conflicting stories about what really happened on the first Thanksgiving but most of the stories agree on the basic details:
In September of 1620, 102 pilgrims set sail for the New World aboard a ship named The Mayflower. Although their intended destination was Virginia, strong winds and storms forced them to settle in the area of Plymouth.
They had a brutally harsh first year and many of them didn’t live to see their first New England Spring.
The ones that did, however, were surprised when an English speaking Indian named Samoset visited them. According to writer Bill Heid, in his e-book, Squanto’s Garden, Samoset’s first words to the Pilgrims were:
“Welcome, English. I am Samoset. Do you have beer?” The Pilgrims were surprised but glad to accommodate Samoset’s request, as they had brought beer with them on the voyage. In fact, they had brought nine times more beer than water, because beer was much more potable. One of the first structures built in the New World by the Pilgrims was a pub, built from wood they had intentionally brought from England for just that purpose. This might strike many of us as strange who have been taught that the Pilgrims were hard, straight-laced folk; but the reality is that they were a lively group that worked hard, played hard and prayed hard. *
Several days later, Samoset returned with another Native American named Squanto. Since Squanto spoke English, his role was to act as interpreter between the Indians and the Pilgrims. However, his importance to the Pilgrims was much greater than that. Squanto taught them to garden.
The Pilgrims did not know how to survive in this new land but as a “native”, Squanto did. He taught them which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers. He taught them how to plant corn by heaping the earth into low mounds with several seeds and putting a dead fish in each mound to help fertilize the corn. He also taught them to plant other crops and how to tap the maple trees for sap.
In November 1621, The Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. They had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate.
** So they decided to have a feast. The guests at the feast included the 52 remaining pilgrims and about 90 Indians. One of the historical conflicts is about whether the Indians were actually invited or whether they just showed up when they heard all of gun shots from the Pilgrim men who were out trying to shoot some food for the feast.
The celebration lasted for three days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, it is believed that the meal included fowl (possibly turkey, duck and swan), venison, corn, pumpkins, squash and freshly caught seafood such as lobster, eel, crab and cod.
Because the Pilgrims had neither an oven or any sugar, the meal probably did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts.
For more about the history of the first Thanksgiving, see links below.
And for a little pre-holiday laugh, here are the:
Top Ten Reasons our Family Get-Together will be like the First Thanksgiving.
10) Travelers will come from miles around to join in the feast. There will be conflicting stories about which ones of us were actually invited.
9) Like Samoset, the first question that many of the visitors will ask is “Do you have beer?”
8) The Men-folk will spend the week before the feast hunting for meat to put on the table. (Some of our men have been up at “hunt camp” since deer season opened.)
7) Venison will be included as part of the three day feast.
6) We will include freshly picked, home-grown vegetables in our Thanksgiving dinner.
5) The celebration will last long into the night and celebrants will sit around a fire.
4) The first Thanksgiving feast lasted for three days. We will eat leftovers and continue celebrating for three days.
3) “Between meals, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag (Indian Tribe) played games. The Wampanoag might have taught the English the Pin Game, where a player tried to toss a small ring onto a pin.” *** We will play a similar game, which we call horse shoes.
2) “Besides sports, there was also singing and dancing among both the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims."*** Many times, at least one of the wild men or women at our gathering breaks into song or dance.
And the number one reason that our Thanksgiving Celebration will be like the original Thanksgiving?
1) With all of the challenges we have faced this year, we still have much to celebrate and we will definitely, definitely remember to give thanks
* Squanto’s Garden
**The Pilgrim’s and America’s First Thanksgiving
*** The First Thanksgiving- slideshow