NEW YORK – The Pilgrims never held an autumnal “Thanksgiving feast,” but they did gather to eat and share in the bounty of a plentiful harvest.
Before you start mixing the stuffing, take a look at the origin of Thanksgiving Day – the truth behind the tradition may be surprising.
The holiday originated not as a day of religious observation but as a traditional English harvest. The autumn of 1621 yielded bountiful crops and the Pilgrims gathered together with the Massasoit, a nearby group of American Indians, to enjoy the products of their hard work.
Eel, anyone? The original Pilgrim feast consisted of many items that were common back then, including eel, shellfish, oysters and boiled pumpkin.
Milk, cheese and butter were not available because there were no cows. There were no prepackaged biscuits or ready-made pie crusts, only breads made from corn.
Turkey was not the star of the Pilgrim harvest feast, but rather a selection of duck, goose, partridge and venison.
Historians believe that the meal took place outdoors because there wasn’t a building available large enough to house the settlers and the nearly 90 Massasoit who dined.
Old celebration. The Pilgrims were not the first to have a celebration of this kind. Many civilizations held annual harvest festivals. The ancient Greeks and Romans sacrificed to the gods and goddesses of the harvest, and originated the idea of the cornucopia – horn of plenty.
The Jews celebrate the holiday Sukkot, which honors the rewards of the harvest; and the Chinese participate in the celebration of the Harvest Moon.
Even Americans commemorate the harvest long before Thanksgiving arrives. Pumpkins, apples, and corn are abundant in town markets beginning in September.
Today’s tradition. Today, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and other relatives come together to enjoy the food and spirit of the autumnal season. And a good after-dinner football game doesn’t hurt the tradition a bit.
These family-centered traditions are included in the present day Thanksgiving are what keeps the holiday evolving. After all, “pass the turkey” sounds much better than, “pass the eel.”