CHARLOTTE, NC, November 25, 2015 – In celebration of Thanksgiving, trivia today is all about America’s favorite national holiday.
1 – Our first Thanksgiving: The miracle of the first Thanksgiving was a Patuxet Indian known as Squanto. What are the odds that Pilgrims arriving from the old world, would encounter a native American who spoke English?
Had it not been for the added ease of communication between the settlers and the Indians, that first Thanksgiving might have been a completely different story.
Squanto, or Tisquantum, was captured around 1605 by Captain George Weymouth and taken to England with four others. Over time, Squanto learned English and during the course of his life, he traveled across the Atlantic at least six times.
Many, though not all, historians believe that Squanto’s efforts in helping the Pilgrims recover from the harsh first winter during which they lost half of their original number was the primary reason for their survival. Squanto taught the Pilgrims the native method of cultivating maize by using local fish to fertilize crops.
Under the leadership of William Bradford, and thanks to Squanto’s ability to interpret in English, the Plymouth colony suffered less hardships than their brethren in Virginia.
With an abundant harvest in 1621, the tiny band of Pilgrims were joined by 90 Indians in an English tradition known as the Harvest Festival.
The first Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days with the participants dining on venison, goose, duck, turkey, fish and, naturally, cornbread.
2 – Why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving: There is some debate about whether turkey was part of the first Thanksgiving menu. It is known for certain that there were wild turkeys the Plymouth region thanks to a first-hand account by colonist Edward Winslow.
Winslow mentions the Pilgrims ate “wild fowl” at the meal, but this could have also been ducks or geese. William Bradford wrote, however, that the Pilgrims hunted wild turkey during that time.
But the real reason for using turkey is more pragmatic than anything else. Chicken was an option but the size of a turkey was better adapted to feeding a large gathering.
Furthermore, chickens were needed to supply eggs, just as cows were the source of milk. Pork was common during that era, but given that turkeys were less abundant, the idea of serving something that would be suitable for a special occasion is the likely reason pigs were given a reprieve.
Notably, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie were probably absent at the first Thanksgiving. Cranberry sauce requires sugar, which was a rare commodity in 1621. In fact, it was not until two years later that there was even any written mention of a sweet sauce to accompany the meat.
Potatoes of any kind were also a luxury in the 17th century, which means the initial feast did not include mashed, fried, boiled or scalloped tubers either.
As for pumpkin pie, the problem was making the crust. Here again, in 1623 it is likely that pumpkin pie was part of the celebration.
An interesting sidebar: Charles Dickens’ popular novella, “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843, notes that Ebenezer Scrooge sent a Christmas turkey to Bob Cratchit and his family. Thus, the modern tradition of the American Thanksgiving turkey may have gotten a boost from the popularity of author Charles Dickens who was avidly read on this side of the Atlantic as well.
3 – The origin of Thanksgiving: President Abraham Lincoln is given credit for declaring the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. Lincoln issued a 519 word proclamation on October 3, 1863 calling for the Thanksgiving holiday. By the way, Lincoln’s Thanksgiving document was twice as long as his Gettysburg Address.
But the real credit for formalizing this quintessentially American holiday belongs to magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale who campaigned to establish Thanksgiving as a “great Union Festival of America.”
While still living in the midst of the American Civil War, Hale persevered with her goal, hoping that Lincoln would see the merit of establishing the holiday as possibly one way to re-unify the nation.
The New York Times published a copy of Lincoln’s proclamation on October 5 and the northern states honored the declaration for the first time on November 26, 1863. The year 2015 represents precisely 252 years since the first official Thanksgiving and nearly 400 years since the Pilgrims and Indians shared that first Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth.
Following is the last sentence of Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation:
“I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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