Thursday, November 22, 2012
Cultures throughout the world have held and continue to hold feasts at the close of the growing seasons after the final harvest. Usually these feasts involve giving thanks to whatever divine being(s) the particular cultures acknowledge. In the United States, the tradition loosely relates to the first “Thanksgiving" feast held by the English settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts
The original one hundred or so settlers consisted of congregants of a separatist church who refused to worship in the England’s established Anglican Church. They arrived on the Mayflower in November 1620, just in time for the onset of winter. After an exploratory party located an advantageous site, the settlers came ashore that December. The site selected had been a Patuxet village that the natives abandoned after its decimation by small pox. By March 1621, however, about half of the English settlers themselves had perished from diseases contracted spread during the voyage or the harsh winter living conditions.
The new settlement took root that year with assistance from the local Wampanoag tribe. Their help had been secured through the efforts of Squanto, a Patuxet native. (Years before he had been captured and brought to England as a “specimen” by an English explorer. While living in England he learned the language. Later he found himself back in his native land. He served as a translator). That fall, after a successful harvest and hunting, a feast was held with some of the Wampanoag neighbors.
One settler preserved an account in a journal:
"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."
And so a local tradition, although inconsistently practiced, began. Other parts of the English colonies celebrated their own traditions on different fall days. These gradually became unified through proclamations of the government.