Thanksgiving on Cape Cod evokes a certain nostalgia.
As people gather around their turkey feasts, many take a minute to reflect on what the first Thanksgiving might have been like. After all, here on Cape Cod, that first feast may have taken place only miles away in Plymouth, MA.
According to historians, in 1621 the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast – which came to symbolize the cooperation and interaction between the English colonists and Native Americans.
Although the feast is considered by many to be the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops.
Interestingly enough, historians also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists at the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia. At that site, a group of British settlers knelt in prayer and pledged “Thanksgiving” to God for their healthy arrival after a long trip across the Atlantic. Believe it or not, this event has been acknowledged by some scholars as being the first official Thanksgiving among European settlers on record.
Whether at Plymouth or the Berkeley Plantation – celebrations of thanks, particularly the feasts, have held great meaning and importance over time.
What Was On The Menu?
Historians aren’t completely certain about the full feast, but it’s safe to say the pilgrims weren’t eating pumpkin pie or mashed potatoes.
The most detailed description of the “First Thanksgiving” comes from Edward Winslow from A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, in 1621:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
According to historian Richard Pickering, deputy director of Massachusetts’ Plimoth Plantation, the colonist’s tables may also have included lobster, eel, mussels, fish, Indian corn, radishes, turnips, and spinach.
“Oh, and there wasn’t a Thanksgiving pilgrim buckle in sight,” says Pickering.
So why are turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie such staples at our Thanksgiving dinner table?
“The Thanksgiving we practice today has more to do with myth than reality,” says Pickering. The food we eat is similar to the cooking of 1860s American, when President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday.
How Will You Celebrate Thanksgiving?
Whether you are celebrating with family or friends, eating turkey or fish – a Cape Cod Thanksgiving is something that is cherished.
Come see for yourself!
Who knows – you may even be able to squeeze in some holiday shopping!
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