Thanksgiving - The Harvest Feast
by Mary Emma Allen
Mary Emma Allen
Thanksgiving has played an important role as a traditional harvest feast in the lives of Americans since the days of the Pilgrims. At this time of year, when the crops were gathered for winter, they gave thanks and acknowledged the many rewards of their labors.
Harvest feasts are not new in the history of man; they've been held for centuries in various parts of the world. Early in October, the ancient Romans dedicated an annual harvest festival, or Cerelia, to Ceres, their goddess of grains and harvests.
Plymouth Thanksgiving Best Known
Although some historians think that other colonists held feasts of thanksgiving before the Pilgrims, most credit those Massachusetts settlers with starting this celebration. More is known about the feast at Plymouth Plantation. So the accepted version of the Thanksgiving story is that these stalwart settlers began the tradition in the autumn of 1621.
To this harvest feast, the Pilgrims also gave religious meaning by holding services and offering prayers of gratitude for their new homes, their religious freedom, the friendly natives, and their crops. Though meager, this harvest would furnish them with food for the approaching cold winter months.
Thanksgiving Becomes a Tradition
This custom of an annual Thanksgiving feast was repeated year after year and became a tradition throughout various colonies. As crops became more diversified, Thanksgiving menus were more elaborate.
Turkey remained the traditional meat, but vegetables now included onions, turnips, white and sweet potatoes. Desserts encompassed a range of pies from mince (first made with dried cherries) to pumpkins, squash and apple to puddings of cranberry and/or corn meal
and dried plums.
Becomes An Official Holiday
With the encouragement of Sarah Josepha Hale, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. In 1941, an Act of Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as an official holiday of Thanksgiving.
(c) 2001 Mary Emma Allen
(Mary Emma Allen has been writing cooking columns for 30 years and has compiled a family cookbook. She's currently compiling a cookbook/story book, "Tales From a Country Kitchen." Visit her web site for more cooking articles:
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"the Pilgrims also gave religious meaning by holding services"