What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of Thanksgiving? Turkey, right? Or at least the food and feasting. And you’d be right. But do you know the significance of the turkey taking centre stage, or why Thanksgiving is even a thing?
The History of Thanksgiving
The holiday of Thanksgiving is steeped in American history and marks the celebration of the Plymouth Plantation. The story of the Plymouth Plantation is a heart-warming one. It follows the perilous journey and subsequent settlement of a group of 102 passengers that set sail from Plymouth on the south coast of the UK in September 1620 on a boat called the Mayflower.
The Mayflower was at sea for 66 days, carrying religious separatists and those looking for a new life full of promise in America, then known as the New World.
They landed at Massachusetts Bay, and unfortunately for these pilgrims, that first winter was harsh. By the time the Spring of 1621 came around, only half of them had survived. Weary, the remaining travellers moved inland and met with two Native Americans who taught them how to grow corn, beans and squash, harvest sap from maple trees, catch fish and avoid plants that were poisonous. And this is where the sharing of food and feasting element of Thanksgiving was born.
The year 1621 saw the first ever Thanksgiving (although it’s doubtful it was actually called that back then) after the pilgrims and the natives celebrated a successful first harvest. It stayed this way for 200 years, with different colonies and states all holding their own Thanksgiving celebrations, giving thanks to successful harvests and sharing bountiful food.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln decreed that Thanksgiving Day should be on the last Thursday of November each year. Then in 1941, Franklin D Roosevelt changed it to the fourth Thursday of November, the system still in place today (this year it falls on Thursday 22nd November).
So What About the Turkey Tradition?
Despite what we now know as a traditional Thanksgiving dinner – roast turkey and all the trimmings – turkey wasn’t on the menu back in 1621. Historical records suggest this first celebratory feast included deer, seal, goose, swan and lobster.
So where did turkey come from? Legend has it, that it was inspired by Queen Elizabeth I’s love of goose. Later settlers in the US, faced with more turkeys than geese, then roasted the large, feast-worthy birds in her honour.
But another theory gives credit to Sarah Joseph Hale, widely known as the Godmother of Thanksgiving for first introducing the bird, again due to its large size. Sarah edited the then popular Godey’s Lady Book magazine and is said to have used her power and influence to make a roast turkey the main event.
Either way, turkeys have now become synonymous with Thanksgiving. (Along with pumpkin pie, presumably because there is a glut of pumpkins around at this time of year.)
So whether your Thanksgiving is about watching the Macy’s parade or you’re more about the American football, make your Thanksgiving all about the traditional meaning – giving thanks for the food you’re about to share with loved ones. And if you’re dreading the cooking, and the washing up, why not book a Chef on AmoChef to do it all for you?!