Chances are your child can tell you the first Thanksgiving had Pilgrims and Indians. They probably even have a grocery sack vest or a Pilgrim hat to go with the pumpkin pie and turkey. But what about Thanksgiving is true and what is myth? Share these fun facts with your kids and wow the Thanksgiving table with your trivia about the origins of this favored holiday.
Abraham Lincoln Declared the First Official Thanksgiving
That’s right. Thanksgiving wasn’t an official holiday until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. For seventeen years, Sarah Josepha Hale had campaigned for Thanksgiving to be a national holiday. Feeling the country needed a lift in spirits and a day of gratefulness, Lincoln heeded her plea. However, this woman is better remembered for penning the words to a classic song your child likely knows: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Lincoln decided on the fourth Thursday in November and only once has the country deviated. In 1938, Roosevelt changed the date to the third Thursday, hoping to boost Depression-era Christmas shopping. It didn’t catch on and was reversed.
Fast, Not a Feast, was the Pilgrims’ Plan
The early settlers were a devout and serious lot. They planned to observe a period of thanksgiving with abstaining and prayer, until the Wampanoag Indians arrived to share a feast. Edward Winslow, the Pilgrim chronicler, recorded that the Indians brought five deer to the three-day feast. Likely, the meal would have also been an original farm to table event, with the settlers gleaning vegetables such as onions, beans, and cabbage from their gardens. Sweet potatoes had not yet traversed the Atlantic, and everyone’s favorite pumpkin pie? The people didn’t have flour or sugar necessary for pie. Instead, they might have hollowed out the gourds and filled them with milk, honey, and spices to make a custard.
Thanksgiving Developed the TV Dinner
Though the holiday is known for family gatherings around a heavily-laden table, in 1953, the inspiration for TV dinners came out of Swanson’s leftover turkeys. When a savvy salesman suggested packaging the leftover turkey (260 tons of it) into aluminum trays with a side, the prepackaged meals that save our dinners today was born! Surely the Pilgrims would be proud of that frugality and use of resources.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!