Archive for November 27th, 2008

I’ve gathered a few accounts of behavior at the “first” Thanksgiving.  I can imagine most of this social behavior wasn’t particular to just the Thanksgiving celebration – it’s probably general 17th century eating and social customs.

Approach to serving the feast (from History.com):

Seventeenth Century Table Manners:

The pilgrims didn’t use forks; they ate with spoons, knives, and their fingers. They wiped their hands on large cloth napkins which they also used to pick up hot morsels of food. Salt would have been on the table at the harvest feast, and people would have sprinkled it on their food. Pepper, however, was something that they used for cooking but wasn’t available on the table.

In the seventeenth century, a person’s social standing determined what he or she ate. The best food was placed next to the most important people. People didn’t tend to sample everything that was on the table (as we do today), they just ate what was closest to them.

Serving in the seventeenth century was very different from serving today. People weren’t served their meals individually. Foods were served onto the table and then people took the food from the table and ate it. All the servers had to do was move the food from the place where it was cooked onto the table.

Pilgrims didn’t eat in courses as we do today. All of the different types of foods were placed on the table at the same time and people ate in any order they chose. Sometimes there were two courses, but each of them would contain both meat dishes, puddings, and sweets.

Fasting not feasting (from Wikipedia):

The Pilgrims did not hold a true Thanksgiving until 1623, when it followed a drought, prayers for rain, and a subsequent rain shower. Irregular Thanksgivings continued after favorable events and days of fasting after unfavorable ones. In the Plymouth tradition, a thanksgiving day was a church observance, rather than a feast day.

Gradually, an annual Thanksgiving after the harvest developed in the mid-17th century. This did not occur on any set day or necessarily on the same day in different colonies in America.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony (consisting mainly of Puritan Christians) celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time in 1630, and frequently thereafter until about 1680, when it became an annual festival in that colony; and Connecticut as early as 1639 and annually after 1647, except in 1675. The Dutch in New Netherland appointed a day for giving thanks in 1644 and occasionally thereafter.

Charlestown, Massachusetts held the first recorded Thanksgiving observance June 29, 1671 by proclamation of the town’s governing council.

During the 18th century individual colonies commonly observed days of thanksgiving throughout each year. We might not recognize a traditional Thanksgiving Day from that period, as it was not a day marked by plentiful food and drink as is today’s custom, but rather a day set aside for prayer and fasting.

Later in the 1700s individual colonies would periodically designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop. Such a Thanksgiving Day celebration was held in December 1777 by the colonies nationwide, commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.

Thanksgiving wasn’t always about giving thanks, often it was a celebration of military victory (from Oyate.org):

Myth #10: The Pilgrims and Indians became great friends.

Fact: A mere generation later, the balance of power had shifted so enormously and the theft of land by the European settlers had become so egregious that the Wampanoag were forced into battle. In 1637, English soldiers massacred some 700 Pequot men, women and children at Mystic Fort, burning many of them alive in their homes and shooting those who fled. The colony of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a day of thanksgiving commemorating the massacre. By 1675, there were some 50,000 colonists in the place they had named “New England.” That year, Metacom, a son of Massasoit, one of the first whose generosity had saved the lives of the starving settlers, led a rebellion against them. By the end of the conflict known as “King Philip’s War,” most of the Indian peoples of the Northeast region had been either completely wiped out, sold into slavery, or had fled for safety into Canada. Shortly after Metacom’s death, Plimoth Colony declared a day of thanksgiving for the English victory over the Indians. (13)

They probably didn’t have the vegetarian and vegan problems with have today (from Newsweek):

The problem isn’t necessarily a lack of food. Between the mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, candied yams and bounty of desserts, you can usually find a way to stuff yourself silly. Instead, the vegetarian frustration is with the flurry of questions that follow saying “no thank you” to the turkey. “There was definitely some heckling,” says Carly McLean, 24, of her first vegetarian Thanksgiving at her parents’ house in central Illinois. She remembers her family looking at her as if she had grown a horn or a third eye during that meal. “There was a lot of, ‘you’re still in college, you’re going through a phase, you’re just rebellious.’ My aunt asked, ‘how can you be a vegetarian from the Midwest, isn’t that an oxymoron?'” The assumption clearly was, this is Thanksgiving, therefore you eat turkey. “I think we might have spent less time talking about what we were thankful for, than ‘What is Lorraine going to eat?'” says 25-year-old Lorraine Woodcheke from San Francisco. She’s skipping out on Thanksgiving altogether this year, leaving this weekend for Australia. On Thanksgiving Day, she’ll be climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge. “I never considered skipping any holiday with my family before,” she says. “In a way, I’m sad to miss it, but at the same time, its just nice that I’m going to do my own thing and nobody has to change what they’re doing.”

However, the early Thanksgivings probably still had epic family fights (info from National Humanities Center):

Although subordinate to their husbands in the religious life of both home and church, Puritan “goodwives” played an important role in the economies of their households, and husbands entrusted them with a wide range of practical responsibilities. Such are the conclusions of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in Goodwives (1980), a study of women in early New England which, among other matters, documents the common role of that region’s matrons as “deputy husbands” who were empowered to act for their spouses on a variety of financial and legal matters. Even so, a deep mistrust of women permeated the culture of Puritan New England. Even though husbands regarded their wives as “potentially dependable helpmeets,” as Carol Karlsen argues in The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (1987), most Puritan men still harbored dark suspicions of all women as daughters of Eve, greedy for both power and sexual gratification. This pervasive misogyny, according to Karlsen, made women susceptible to charges of witchcraft, particularly those who stood to inherit large estates that would have endowed them with uncommon economic influence.

If you are reading this blog today, Thanks! and now get back to chillin.

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