The First Thanksgiving

By Emma Boast

Published on October 14, 2009

In her book Giving Thanks (Clarkson Potter, 2005), the food historian Sandra L. Oliver (author of " Yankee Pride") points out an interesting fact about the much mythologized harvest feast held by English colonists and Wampanoag Indians in 1621 in Massachusetts. "To the English of Plymouth Plantation," she writes, "what is now referred to as 'The First Thanksgiving' was neither a first nor a thanksgiving." In fact, she says, harvest celebrations like that one had long been an agrarian tradition in England; as for the notion of "thanksgiving," it held a purely religious meaning, denoting a holy day of prayer. What do we know about the 1621 feast? Precious little, except that many dishes that aren't typically served nowadays, like mussels and oysters, were likely on the menu.

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