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The First Feast Project, Part 1: Tracking the First Thanksgiving Feast

| 11/12/2015 4:23:00 PM

First Thanksgiving 

Halloween is over, signaling the official end of the fall season and the beginning of the holiday season. Sooner than most are ready, it will be time to dust off the roasting pans, pull out the spare table and chairs, and stuff our faces for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a holiday focused on giving thanks for the blessings we have but are often overlooked, visiting seldom-seen family, and celebrating that historic first feast between Pilgrims and Indians in 1692.

But have you ever wondered what exactly was eaten at the First Feast?

It’s a question that popped into my mind last year, as I reflected on another holiday spent away from family and friends. I cannot say what spurred the question, but once formed in my mind, I was obsessed with knowing the answer.

Lucky for me, there is this neat little tool I have called Google. After typing in the query, I had my answer in 10 minutes. (That may seem long to many people, but you should never go with the first pages of results from a Google search.)

11/16/2015 11:22:51 PM

the second blog entry that is to follow. But to address a couple of things now. We do know with certainty what some items on the menu were. Again, I do address this in the next post. Second, there had been no large scale massacres of Indians yet. Sure that is a part of history that will come, but at the time relations had no broken down to that point. It was still too early, so accounts of that are either incorrect or transplanting an opinion of future events on earlier events.

11/15/2015 12:26:35 AM

Good grief, how can one,first, edit a double post, and second, ensure paragraphs are kept?

11/15/2015 12:23:57 AM

How sincere are you about tracking the First Thanksgiving? Its mostly a modern myth, especially the part about turkey and well-meaning civilized settlers being good with savage Aboriginals. The Wampanoag have a slightly different record of the 1621 Thanksgiving, including the unliklihood that these people sat together in friendship, which makes reconstructing the menu even more complicated. The reality is much harsher and often far less romantic, though no less fascinating for being that. Its not known for sure what all was on the menu of the 1621 Plymouth Thanksgiving; not even turkey is certain. People had access to turkeys, but it wasn't the preferred, go-to 'wildfowl'. At least one go-to bird from an 'authentic' Thanksgiving menu is extinct, the passenger pigeon. The main course of a proper early Colonial era Thanksgiving meal would have been deer. A century later, the main meat was beef. Another improtant food would have been eel, a staple fish of the Old World as well as the New. The local Aboriginals had always celebrated the fall harvest - Thanksgiving - around this time, as did Europeans in Europe. The Puritan Christian settlers at Plymouth weren't into traditional celebrations that lacked scriptural justification; not even Christmas. Observing someone else's non-Christian religious festival was obviously out of the question. However, ad hoc Thanksgivings were held periodically as religious ceremonies commemorating significant events, such as celebrating a great harvest or military victory. The key notion here is 'ad hoc'. That Puritans would have founded a festival is ironic and would make them spin in their graves, save that they wouldn't think much of spinning dervishes, either. It was in this tradition of ad hoc Thanksgivings, that George Washington commemorated the Constitution of the United States in 1789, declaring a Thanksgiving for 26 November of that year, as a one-off for just that year. The modern Thanksgiving myth is based on a then-forgotten 200-year-old letter by Mayflower colonist Edward Winslow, the colony's agent to London and later, its governor. He was perhaps a little heavily invested in presenting the business of colonization in its best light, and far from the most objective observer. Sarah Josepha Hale (of "Mary had a little lamb" fame) is probably most responsible for Thanksgiving as we know it. By 1861, the individual States celebrated Thanksgiving formally but on different dates. U.S. Presidents including Abraham Lincoln routinely proclaimed 'a day of Thanksgivng and Praise' around late November or early December. Women did most of the work of the Thanksgiving feast, and apparently wanted a little more consistancy in the dates. From her editor's position of the influential 'Godey's Ladies Book', an early women's magazine, Ms. Hale successfully lobbied Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Lincoln was more interested in Thanksgiving as a propaganda tool for national unity, due to the Civil War (1861-1865). This meant a unity myth, even about getting along with the Natives, was far more useful than celebrating the reality of contemporary Constitutional politics. The Thanksgiving of 1621 was all about celebrating a large massacre of Indians by settlers.Generally, settlers were grateful to be alive at the expense of the Aboriginals; they were not 'best friends forever' by any stretch of the imagination as the modern myth suggests. Although 1621 became the model of most subsequent American Thanksgivings, and although some European-descended postmodern Americans would be more than happy to do it again, 1621 is not a truly all-American Thanksgiving. Lincoln may have made Thanksgiving a national holiday, but in 1863 the nation was still fighting the American Civil War. Lincoln's Thanksgivng, although it inaugerated the modern myth, is can't really be the first American Thanksgiving as the nation was then divided. So technically, the first United States American Thanksgiving was in 1789, in commemoration of the Constitution, not in 1621, which was overtly about extirpating Aboriginals, or in 1863, when the country was divided by the Civil War. An authentic United States First Thanksgiving would seek to replicate one of the many Thanksgiving dinner menus of 1789, commemorating a Constitution that owed many elements to the Aborginal Iroquos Confederacy, including its Great Law of Peace. The extirpation of Aboriginal societies from their homelands resulted in the loss of many of the original food crops they used, that were not adopted by the colonials. The Colonials then lost or further modified these heritage crops. This complicates recreating a fully authuentic First Thanksgiving feast. Although many original indigenous varieties survive, most would not have been present at Plymouth in 1621. If you're still interested, here are some modern Aboriginal recipes to help celebrate the real meaning of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a seasonally-inspired celebration of the family of humankind and Creation, a sentiment which survives the reality, that making it real may never be forgotten.

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