Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the United States. Most people know that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. Governor William Bradford, the Pilgrim leader, hosted the feast and invited the Wampanoag Indians, but did you know the celebration lasted for three days? Also, the Pilgrims and their guests ate with spoons, knives, and their fingers—no forks.
Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. You probably knew that, but did you know that he was persuaded to do so by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? She spent nearly twenty years lobbying five presidents, members of Congress, and every governor of the United States before she convinced Lincoln that it would be a good idea to help unify the country once the Civil War ended. Her efforts finally resulted in success when on October 23, 1863 Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November as a national holiday in celebration of Thanksgiving.
And here’s something else you probably didn’t know: Even though we traditionally serve candied yams, pumpkin pies, and cranberry relish with our Thanksgiving turkey, none of those foods were present at the 1621 feast. Historians believe that lobster, rabbit, chicken, fish, squash, beans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, leeks, dried fruits, maple syrup, honey, radishes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, and goat cheese may have been on the menu that day. What we know for certain is that deer, fowl (but probably not turkey), fish, and corn were served. This information comes to us from the only two documented sources written about the celebration. One is a brief passage in a letter penned by Edward Winslow in December 1621. The other is from On Plymouth Plantation, written by William Bradford about twenty years after the event.
So whom do we have to thank for our traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving? Once again, none other than Sarah Josepha Hale. She wrote numerous editorials outlining various recipes that should be used for Thanksgiving, including turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Why that menu? Perhaps they were among her favorite dishes.