The fourth Thursday of November is now celebrated as Thanksgiving in the United States every year but the origin of the holiday goes back almost 400 years.
The first Thanksgiving on record was celebrated in November 1621 when the newly arrived colonists (or Pilgrims) and the Wampanoag Indians gathered at Plymouth for an autumn harvest celebration where festivities went on for three days, according to primary accounts reported by Time magazine.
The Wampanoag Indians in attendance were the occupants of the land for thousands of years and key to the survival of the colonists in their first year after they arrived in 1620, according to the National Museum of the American Indian.
Following the first successful harvest of the Pilgrims’ crop in 1621, at least 140 people gathered for the feast, historians say. While it is not known what the immediate reason for the joint meal was, there were at least 90 native men and 50 Englishmen present, Kathleen Wall, a colonial foodways culinarian at Plimoth Plantation, told Time.
The group indulged in games, possibly races and shooting at marks, Wall added. There was also a possibility that the Pilgrims ate off of tables, while the natives dined on the ground.
Contrary to present tradition, the turkey was not the star of the meal during the festivities. Despite boasting of a great selection of fowl and fish, writings by Plymouth leaders Edward Winslow and William Bradford show that five deer contributed to the dinner by Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag people, were the main attraction.
The mood of merriment, however, was probably short-lived since there are no records of the celebration taking place again for the next decade. The peace between the early European colonizers and Native Americans also broke down as thousands of more settlers arrived in the “New World.”