How has Thanksgiving Changed Over Time?

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Lauren DiRienzo

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A painting of the first Thanksgiving feast 
(Google Common License)

A painting of the first Thanksgiving feast (Google Common License)

Many Americans know the story of that cold October day in 1621 when the Pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving feast to celebrate a successful harvest. What most people don’t know, however, is what actually happened at that feast, and how great it varies from the Thanksgiving feasts celebrated today.

Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie are staples of many families’ Thanksgiving feasts today. However, many of these classic dishes that are served every Thanksgiving weren’t eaten at the first Thanksgiving. While there isn’t a clear record of the menu, one Pilgrim, Edward Winslow, wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling mission” for the event, and the Wampanoag Native Americans brought five deer(History.com). Historians believe that they many used traditional Native American cooking methods and spices for the dishes. The Pilgrims did not have ovens and their sugar supply had dwindled by then, so we know that there weren’t any pies or other desserts at the first Thanksgiving. However, mincemeat pies, which are filled with chopped meat, dried fruit, and spices, were probably served along with plum pudding as side dishes.

Besides the menu, Thanksgiving has also been modernized in many other ways. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade has become a huge part of Thanksgiving for many families, attracting two to three million people along its two and a half mile route. It also attracts a huge t.v. audience and it features marching bands, performers, and elaborate floats. Black Friday is another example of how Thanksgiving has become commercialized. The massive sales designed to attract customers has become a huge draw for many people, last year 174 million people went Black Friday shopping.

Although Thanksgiving has become much more commercialized and the menu has changed since the first Thanksgiving feast, the tradition of gathering with loved ones and being thankful has stayed the same.