First Thanksgiving: A Three-day Fasting Festival?

The celebration known widely as “Thanksgiving” holds a cherished place in the heart of American tradition. Many have been led to believe that this celebration began as a feast of gratitude shared by the pilgrims and Native Americans, lasting three days and involving a period of fasting. This essay endeavors to unravel the rich tapestry of the First Thanksgiving, beginning with its origins, the circumstances that led to this historic gathering of Pilgrims and Native Americans, and the evolving dynamics of their relationship. From there, we delve into the specifics of the event and meticulously examine sundry historical accounts to elucidate the event’s sequence and respond to the supposition of it being a three-day festival of fasting.

Origins of the first Thanksgiving

The Origins and Historical Context of the First Thanksgiving: A Fact-Based Analysis


Fact Check

Claim: First Thanksgiving was a Three-day Fasting Festival

Description: There is a common belief that the First Thanksgiving was an event where the pilgrims and Native Americans held a three-day festival that involved a period of fasting.

Rating: Partially True

Rating Explanation: Although there is historical evidence supporting that the First Thanksgiving lasted for three days, the claim of it involving a period of fasting is not corroborated by any historical documentation.

The first Thanksgiving is a staple in American history, often associated with a harmonious banquet between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. However, as with many historical events, this picture postcard-like portrayal may not entirely align with actual historical evidence. Let’s dissect the origins and context of this occasion that marked the beginning of a longstanding American tradition.

Origins of the First Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving is widely attributed to an event that took place in 1621 at Plymouth, in present-day Massachusetts. A group of English Pilgrims, having arrived on the continent on the Mayflower a year earlier, celebrated a successful corn harvest by hosting a three-day feast which was attended by members of the local Wampanoag tribe, including their leader, Massasoit.

While this event did indeed occur, it should be noted that it was not referred to as “Thanksgiving” by the participants. The term ‘Thanksgiving’ in the early 17th century was generally reserved for expressing gratitude to God through prayer, not feasting. The 1621 event was probably seen by the Pilgrims as a traditional English harvest festival.

Historical Context

The notion that this was a friendly feast celebrating peace and unity also lacks substantial grounding in historical evidence. In the larger context of colonial history, the relationship between Native Americans and European settlers was complex and often marked by conflict. The 1621 event was an important diplomatic occasion, an effort to solidify an alliance that would secure the Pilgrims’ place in New England.

It’s worth remembering that the Pilgrims leaned heavily on the help of Native Americans like Squanto, a tribesman who had survived slavery and knew English, which proved vital for their survival in the new world. His contributions often receive less emphasis in conventional retelling of the Thanksgiving story.

The modern Thanksgiving tradition as we know it began to take shape during the Civil War, when in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. This was largely prompted by the ongoing lobbying efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent writer and editor, who wrote letters to politicians for years advocating for this national holiday.

Fact-Check Summary

Rating: The story of a harmonious feast between Pilgrims and Native Americans being the historical origin of Thanksgiving is decontextualized. It does not adequately communicate the complexity of colonial history and the dynamics between these groups.

The assertion that Abraham Lincoln, prompted by Sarah Josepha Hale, established the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is true based on available documentation.

The assertion that Squanto was instrumental in aiding the Pilgrims is also true, based on historical records.

As with most historical narratives, it’s essential to acknowledge the nuance and context that often go overlooked in the simplified versions of events. As a society, moving towards a more holistic understanding of historical events allows for a more informed reflection. Bringing to light the fact-checked truth, unembellished by myth or popular belief, is necessary for a clear-eyed view of the past.

Illustration of Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal together

Photo by hermez777 on Unsplash

Duration and Activities of the First Thanksgiving

Was the First Thanksgiving a Three-Day Fasting Festival?

The first Thanksgiving – a seminal event in American history, marked with myths and preconceived notions. But how many of these often-repeated beliefs hold up under scrutiny, particularly the idea that the first Thanksgiving lasted three days and included fasting? Unearthing the truth requires digging deep into the historical sources and piecing together a nuanced picture from our past.

Prominent sources for our understanding of the first Thanksgiving include letters and accounts from the English settlers themselves. Pilgrim Edward Winslow wrote an account in 1621 which was published in a volume called Mourt’s Relation. In his letter, Winslow described a feast lasting “three days” where the settlers participated in “rejoicing” with the Native Americans. There was indeed a shared meal, games, and gunshots fired in celebration. Yet nowhere in Winslow’s account, or any known material from that period, does it mention fasting. While the Pilgrims and Puritans did hold fasting days, the first Thanksgiving appears to have been a time of feasting and merriment.

Contemporary historians also emphasize the community-wide participation in the celebrations. Dr. James W. Baker, a noted Thanksgiving historian, refutes claims that the first Thanksgiving involved fasting. Baker notes that fasting commonly meant “days of prayer and meditation, not feasting and recreation.” It seems this would not align with the nature of the three-day celebration described in Winslow’s account.

Further readings from primary sources like William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation corroborate with Edward Winslow’s description. Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, detailed the preparations for the feast but did not mention fasting. Instead, Bradford painted a portrait of hunting, gathering, and abundant food shared amongst settlers and Native Americans alike over the course of the three days.

In conclusion, the claim that the first Thanksgiving was a three-day event is supported by historical accounts and is rated as ‘True.’ However, the idea that this event involved fasting is not backed by any historical documentation, leading to the rating of ‘False’. Decades of historical fact-checking have produced a complex portrait of this event, reminding us that historical truths often differ from modern reinterpretations. Understanding the first Thanksgiving, like any historical event, requires deep investigation, reliable sources, and unbiased interpretation.

A depiction of settlers and Native Americans sharing a festive meal during the first Thanksgiving

Food and Cultural Practices of the First Thanksgiving

Article: What were the Cultural Practices and the Kind of Food Consumed During the First Thanksgiving?

In examining the practices of those participating in the first Thanksgiving, it is essential to consider the cultural amalgamation of Native Americans and Pilgrim settlers. The event was not merely a harvest festival, but an intersection of traditions, underpinning a diverse cultural setting. The involvement of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans made the cultural landscape of the first Thanksgiving profoundly complex.

However, it’s important to note that many details about the cultural practices are lost to history due to limited documentation. Therefore, interpretations should be approached listically, understanding the limitations of the available resources.

When analyzing accounts such as “Mourt’s Relation,” a primary source document authored by Pilgrims Edward Winslow and William Bradford, it’s evident that “recreation” was part of the gathering. The men participated in shooting contests while music and dance were part of the three-day celebration, perhaps indicative of both English and Native American festive traditions.

This brings us to the quandary of the food consumed during this harvest festival in the fall of 1621. Extant evidence suggests that the settlers and Wampanoag shared an autumnal meal, but the idea that it resembled our modern Thanksgiving dinner is a rather romanticized notion.

The “Mourt’s Relation” mentions that Governor Bradford sent out men for fowling, which resulted in a goodly amount of waterfowl and wild turkeys. However, there is no explicit mentioning of potatoes, sweet or otherwise, cranberries, or pumpkin pies. In fact, sugar, required for such sweet treats, was exceedingly rare in the New World.

Given the season and location, seafood like mussels, lobsters and eels, available in abundance around Plymouth would have also possibly featured in the menu. Considering the participation of the Native Americans, it’s plausible that shellfish and other sea produce formed a part of the shared meal. Maize in the form of bread or porridge, rather than our modern creamy corn, would have been possible Native American contributions too, considering their agricultural expertise.

This inquiry into the first Thanksgiving unveils the stark contrast between historical realities and folklore. It underscores the value of critically examining source materials and cautiously interpreting them, steering clear of presentism, anachronism, and over-simplification of complex historical realities.

Well-fact-checked history serves not just as a corrector of misinformation but a powerful illuminator of different personas, cultures, and interactions. The precise nature of the first Thanksgiving might forever remain a puzzle, but the quest for its truth provides extraordinary insights into the early interactions of European settlers and Native Americans.

Image depicting people of different cultures coming together to celebrate the first Thanksgiving.

Misconceptions and Truths about the First Thanksgiving

Misconceptions about the first Thanksgiving often extend to the notion of peace between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, a concept that overshadows the grim reality of conflict and violence inherent to the period. Many believe that the first gathering represented an enduring harmony, which doesn’t align with well-documented accounts of subsequent hostilities. While there were moments of cooperation, viewing the Thanksgiving through rose-colored glasses tends to negate the larger, more complex narrative of settler and native interactions.

From accounts, we learn there were ninety Wampanoag tribe members at the feast, though popular narratives often downplay their presence. With such a sizable native delegation, it is likely that the Wampanoag and their Massasoit (leader), not merely guests, played a significant role in proceedings. For instance, they contributed five deer to the meal, yet many representations of the event positioned the natives as secondary actors, overshadowed by the Pilgrims.

Another myth claims Thanksgiving was a solemn, religious event. As per the prevailing notions of seventeenth-century Europeans, public displays of piety were generally characterized by fasting and prayer. However, the Winchester account depicts more of a secular gathering with revelry, hunting, and perhaps games, challenging this view. It’s worth noting that Thanksgiving, as a recurring event, was not instituted until much later.

The term “Thanksgiving” was also misleadingly applied. The Pilgrims of Plymouth wouldn’t have initially recognized the 1621 gathering as a “thanksgiving,” which to them was a solemn, religiously motivated occasion. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the event was retroactively labeled as “the first Thanksgiving.”

Misconceptions about the attire of Native Americans and Pilgrims in visual depictions of the event also persist. In popular imagery, Pilgrims are usually clothed in black clothing with wide-collar and brass buckles. In actuality, such attire was not in fashion during their era. Instead, they wore more practical and comfortable clothing, mostly in green, brown, and other earth tones. Similarly, Native Americans are frequently characterized as bare-chested and adorned with feathers, which is historically inconsistent with their actual varied and complex attire.

The food served is another aspect shrouded in misconception. The only food we positively know was served were the five deer brought by the Wampanoag. When it comes to the remainder of the spread, no detailed record exists. Cranberry sauce, as many vision it, was unfathomable to the Pilgrim’s particularly because sugar, a key ingredient in modern cranberry sauce, was a precious commodity in the 17th-century world.

In conclusion, our understanding of the first Thanksgiving is influenced by a tableau of myths, half-truths, and outright inaccuracies. Only through careful, analytical scrutiny of historical resources can genuine insight into this event emerge, which is often far removed from the commonplace depiction of the harmonious feast between Pilgrims and native people. Accurate history rarely conforms neatly to our modern stereotypes and conceptions, but it always rewards with a richer comprehension of our collective past.

Image depicting the common myths surrounding the first Thanksgiving, showing Pilgrims and Native Americans in historically inaccurate attire

Undoubtedly, the First Thanksgiving remains an instrumental event in American history and tradition. However, the narratives around it are often steeped in misconception and half-truths. As we have ventured through this exploration, it’s clear that understanding the cultural practices, food choices, and actual events of this day requires a careful and nuanced perspective. By delving into history, we have sought to shine a light on the truths and discard the inherited falsehoods, creating a more profound comprehension of what the First Thanksgiving truly embodied. Let us carry this wisdom as we move forward learning from the past, amending present misunderstandings, and refining our future narratives with reinforced truthfulness.