A complete history of Thanksgiving

First Posted: 7:37 am - November 24th, 2015 Updated: 9:44 am - November 24th, 2015.

Sandi McBride - Contributing Columnist

Sandi McBride provided this family photo of her Mammy in the kitchen. From the Pilgrims’ landing to modern days, Thanksgiving has been a celebration of food, family and faith.
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The legendary pilgrims crossed the Atlantic in the year 1620 in the Mayflower — a 17th-century sailing vessel. About 102 people traveled for nearly two months with extreme difficulty. This was so because they were kept in the cargo space of the sailing vessel. No one was allowed to go on the deck due to terrible storms.

The pilgrims comforted themselves by singing psalms. Nearly every American would love to lay claim to being a descendant of one of the Mayflower passengers. As far as I know, there were no passports given out, but we do know quite a few of their names. As far as I know, none of the Douglas clan was aboard.


The pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock on Dec. 11 1620, after a sea journey of 66 days. I don’t think they had an outboard engine — only wind power. Wind power being what it is, though, they could not reach the place owing to winds blowing them off course. The original destination was somewhere in the northern part of Virginia. I believe a man was in charge of asking directions, and so there you go.

Nearly 46 pilgrims died due to extreme cold in winter. (I take it that the 46th passenger had a close call, but someone poured warm grog down his throat just in the nick of time.) However, in the spring of 1621, Squanto, a native Indian, taught the pilgrims to survive by growing food.

According to my grandfather, they used fish for fertilizer…but probably only the entrails unless they didn’t particularly like the taste of fish. Daddy Dwight (my grandfather) had a love for fish and fishing and would throw entrails, heads and scales into the compost to make great fertilizer. He wouldn’t think of wasting the edible parts on plant rows.


In the summer of 1621, owing to severe drought, pilgrims called for a day of fasting and prayer to please God and ask for a bountiful harvest in the coming season. God answered their prayers and it rained at the end of the day. It saved the corn crops.

We still do that to this day. But first, we always ask God why He lets us get into these messes…Mammy (my Grandmother) always said He was just trying to get our attention and that maybe if we didn’t leave Him out of our daily life, who knew what might be gifted to us!

I tend to agree with her. She was infrequently wrong about anything.


It is said that Pilgrims learned to grow corn, beans and pumpkins from the Indians, which helped all of them survive . In the autumn of 1621, they held a grand celebration where 90 people were invited, including Indians. (OK, OK, Native Americans — can’t seem to get the fact that they hadn’t actually landed in India out of my head. )

The grand feast was organized to thank God for his favors. This communal dinner is popularly known as “The first thanksgiving feast.” There is however, no evidence to prove if the dinner actually took place. It is sort of a “word of mouth” story that came down parent to child…like a game of Gossip.

Some historians believe that the pilgrims, being quite religious, would definitely have a day of fasting and praying before a huge feast. Whether or not the dinner actually took place is anybody’s guess. The colony leader who supposedly wrote about it could have been dreaming, his visions brought on by extreme hunger.


There is no evidence to prove if the customary turkey was a part of the initial feast. According to the firsthand account written by the leader of the colony, the food included, ducks, geese, venison, fish, berries, etc. But the table without a turkey on it, is a poor table to be sure.

Never having a taste for goose or duck, I’d as soon put nothing on the table than go without the traditional turkey. I’ve never been one to buck tradition. So no venison on the table either. Perhaps at the table…someone please pass Bambi some cranberries.


Pumpkin pie, a modern staple adorning every dinner table, is unlikely to have been a part of the first Thanksgiving feast. Pilgrims, however, did have boiled pumpkin. (Picture me gagging here).

Diminishing supplies of flour led to the absence of any kind of bread. Sort of begs the question: Did the pilgrims break bread with Squanto and his tribe? So, no cakes or pies. Bummer.


The feast continued for three days and was eaten outside due to lack of space. It was not repeated till 1623, which again witnessed a severe drought. People will just not learn. Don’t wait till you’re in drastic need and then start begging God to save your belly!

Governor Bradford proclaimed another day of thanksgiving in the year 1676. October of 1777 witnessed a time when all the 13 colonies joined in a communal celebration. It also marked the victory over the British. (Sorry, Mary, but someone had to say it — Thanksgiving is really just another razzberry to the King.)


After a number of events and changes, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a Day of Thanksgiving in the year 1863. This was due to the continuous efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor. She wrote a number of articles for the cause.

Of course, it had to be a woman leading the way…because that’s what we do. We whisper in men’s ears at night when they are sleeping, and when they awaken they have this great idea that they came up with all on their own. (Big sigh here…)


So, Mary this is why we have Thanksgiving. We needed a day where we could do the cooking and prop children up in front of the TV to watch the parades and the ginormous balloons floating across the skyscapes of New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Los Angeles…well, all over America really.

But the actual bonus to the women is simple. We can get rid of men when the parades are over by turning on the TV to ESPN, where hours and hours of mind-numbing game play keeps their attention on the tube and off the fact that we are about to spend three days shopping like maniacs.

I hope that clears things up for you, Mary (and anyone else who needs the scoop on Thanksgiving.)

Sandi McBride is a resident of Jefferson who blogs regularly and enjoys her garden and her furry and feathered friends. She is a wife and mother of two sons.


Sandi McBride provided this family photo of her Mammy in the kitchen. From the Pilgrims’ landing to modern days, Thanksgiving has been a celebration of food, family and faith.
http://thecherawchronicle.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/web1_fzd-MaMMY-IN-HER-KITCHEN1.jpgSandi McBride provided this family photo of her Mammy in the kitchen. From the Pilgrims’ landing to modern days, Thanksgiving has been a celebration of food, family and faith.

Sandi McBride

Contributing Columnist



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