The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people celebrated the first Thanksgiving in November of 1621. This festival marked the Pilgrims’ first harvest in the New World, made possible by the help of the Wampanoags. After a hard year of sickness and scarcity, the Pilgrims set aside a three-day festival of feasting and games to give thanks to God for bringing them through to a plentiful harvest. The menu for this festival included items like fowl (hunted by the Englishmen), deer (brought by the Wampanoag), corn, and shellfish. They probably also ate a variety of forest berries and vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, and peas. Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of every November.
“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty.”—William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation
“At our arrival in New Plymouth, in New England, we found all our friends and planters in good health…the Indians round about us peaceable and friendly; the country very pleasant and temperate, yielding naturally, of itself, great store of fruits, as vines of divers sorts in great abundance.”—William Hilton, Nov 1621
Many of the foods we eat at our Thanksgiving meals today, like pumpkin pie or cranberry sauce, were not even available to the Pilgrims.
When the Wampanoags first heard the Pilgrims hunting for fowl, they thought they were preparing for war. But when the Indians realized the Pilgrims were planning a feast, they came to celebrate with them.
Abraham Lincoln officially declared the fourth Thursday in November as the national Thanksgiving day in 1863.