Every year, millions of Americans look forward to settling down at the table with friends and family and digging into a big Thanksgiving meal with all the traditional trimmings. Like all major holidays and other events celebrated by a whole lot of people, there are plenty of fun little facts and figures about all aspects of the holiday — from the iconic turkey to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — that we bet you didn’t know, and we’ve rounded up our favorite 10.
While we’re on the topic, now’s probably a good time to go over a little history of the holiday, which may differ slightly from the story you were told in elementary school. In September 1620, 102 religious separatists set off on a small ship (the Mayflower, of course) from Plymouth, England, and landed near Cape Cod 66 very uncomfortable days later. The next month, they set up a colony farther south, near Massachusetts Bay, still far north of their intended destination of Manhattan Island. Many colonists stayed aboard the ship as the weather turned colder, and about half of them didn’t make it through the winter. In March, those who survived moved ashore, where several days later they were met by a Pawtuxet Native American who, several years earlier, had been kidnapped by a sea captain, sold into slavery, taken to London, then found his way back home on an exploratory expedition, learning English along the way. His name? Tisquantum, or Squanto for short.
Squanto was truly the Pilgrims’ savior. He taught the malnourished settlers how to cultivate corn, catch fish, forage, extract maple sap, and avoid poisonous plants. He also brokered peace with the local Wampanoag tribe, and the resulting 50-year peace is one of the few examples of harmony between natives and settlers.
In the fall of 1621, the Plymouth colony’s 53 Englishmen decided to throw a party to celebrate their first successful corn harvest, and 90 native Wampanoag joined them. Gov. William Bradford sent four men out to hunt birds, and the Wampanoag contributed five deer to the celebration, which lasted for three days. The exact date of the festival is unknown, but it most likely happened sometime between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9.
We know that the meal was very heavy on meat, but there was also a lot of seafood, plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and breads and porridges (and yes, turkey). It really was an abundance of riches, a meal worth remembering on a yearly basis. Whether the Pilgrims would be pleased with how crazily commercial the holiday has gotten is a toss-up, but they’d probably be glad that we remember their plight every year. Click here for 10 fun Thanksgiving facts.