Thanksgiving Day is the oldest holiday in America, and for me anyway, it is certainly the most popular. Most Americans know the story of the English colonists known as Pilgrims, who in pursuit of religious freedom, fled their homeland in 1620 to settle in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. A year later, in gratefulness for a successful harvest, they held a huge feast with the local Indians, the Wampanoag. The famous feast became known as Thanksgiving Day.
Some may be surprised to learn that this particular feast was not a religious celebration. The Pilgrims did not believe in public display of their religion. Although they were surely thankful, the feast was strictly a non-religious affair, and included game playing and even drinking of liquor. I was also surprised to learn that the 1621 feast is not considered the origin of Thanksgiving Day.
Another feast held on June 30, 1623, is thought to be the real origin of Thanksgiving Day. As the story goes, the Plymouth colony had just endured a terrible drought. Crops were dying in the ground and there appeared to be no relief in sight for the Pilgrims. After much fasting and praying, the rains finally came, followed by a rescue operation from England. Captain Miles Standish miraculously sailed into the harbor with fresh supplies. The shouts of joy that filled the harbor that day must have been heard for miles and miles. A day of thanksgiving and prayer was declared that was both a social and religious celebration.
The standard modern-day meal in America goes something like this: Roasted whole turkey with stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, green bean casserole, vegetable trays and/or salad (including jello and fruit), pumpkin bread, olives, pickles and other condiments, and last but not least, pumpkin pie.
Well, it was hardly the menu of the Pilgrims. A standard 1623 menu would have been: roasted duck, corn porridge, venison or deer meat, seafood, onions, squash, and corn. I'll take the modern version any day, but it is a lot of eating for one sitting, which is why I love leftovers the best.
Personally, in spite of an elaborate menu, I love the simplicity of this holiday. We give thanks to God, plain and simple. Many will bow in prayer around the table with a table grace. Or, if nothing else, they will think about something they can be thankful for this year. One tradition is to go around the table and share one thing you are thankful for. If you have never done this, I urge you to try. It really sets the mood, and those beautiful candles you set on the table to glow warmly will make the moment all the more meaningful, too.