The First Thanksgiving
In 1620 the Pilgrims set sail for a new land and a new life on a ship named the Mayflower. They named the new land they found "New England". Then they began to prepare for the winter ahead. However, the winter proved to be very difficult and many of the Pilgrims grew ill and died.
At that time the Pilgrims were still unfamiliar with the native people of the area. Fearful of the Native Americans the Pilgrims buried their dead at night so that the number of dead would be harder to determine.
It wasn’t until later that the Pilgrims grew friendly with the American Indians. A native named Samoset greeted the Pilgrims one day. Able to speak some English, Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to another Native American, Squanto. As the relationship between the American Indians and the Pilgrims improved the Indians taught the Pilgrims methods of hunting, fishing, farming, and gathering food.
When harvest time arrived the Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated the first Thanksgiving together. Venison, wild duck, corn, popcorn, and cranberries were a few of the foods they shared. They also participated in shooting games. But the focus of the celebration was their grateful attitudes for the bountiful harvest of the year.
Thanksgiving is the most widely observed holiday in the United States. Families today celebrate it in a variety of ways. However most people share this time with family members and enjoy a large feast.
The feast usually centers around a turkey. Cranberry relish, stuffing, potatoes, pumpkin pie, and corn bread may also be served. Sometimes special family recipes are passed down for generations.
Cornucopias filled with nuts, fruits, and vegetables may decorate the table. Parades and football games are also part of many family traditions and some people sing songs, decorate with corn stalks, light candles, and send cards.
However, no matter what the agenda for the day may be, or what is served for eating, or who the day is shared with, most people take a few moments to think about the things that they feel truly thankful for; family, friends, food, or good health and many offer a blessing or grace before partaking in the Thanksgiving feast.
- The red growth around a turkey’s beak is properly called a "snood." The fleshy growth along its neck is called a "waddle."
- The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word "pepon" which means large melon.
- Only male turkeys gobble. Female turkeys make a clicking noise.
- Native Americans traditionally used cranberries to dye fabrics red.
- Corn belongs to the grass family.
- Benjamin Franklin thought that the turkey, not the bald eagle, should be the United States national bird.
- Before the Pilgrims arrived, Squanto, their Native American friend had been sold by the English as a slave in Spain. He later returned to North America on a European ship.
- Turkeys can see movement almost 100 yards away and they see in color.
- Cranberries ripe for eating bounce.
- A fully grown turkey is covered in more than 3,500 feathers.
- Some Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats.
- Corn, squash, and beans were traditionally known by American Indians as the "Three Sisters." They were planted together to promote the healthiest growth.
- Wild turkeys can run at 15 miles per hour.
- The flesh of the pumpkin is not the only edible part of the plant; the seeds and flowers are also good to eat.
- Pilgrim women and girls wore as many as three petticoats at a time.
- The heaviest turkey ever raised weighed 86 pounds.
- Pumpkins can grow to a size over 1,000 pounds in weight.
- Corn is used to make glue, aluminum, aspirin, windshield washer fluid, chewing gum, paint, rugs, toothpaste, soap, and many other items.
- 45 million turkeys are eaten each year at Thanksgiving.
These three crafts use different parts of a corn plant, the husks, the kernels, and the cobs. The craft, Nature’s Necklace, uses Indian corn. Although the other two activities can be made from any type of corn, if you make a necklace, save the cob and the husks for the other crafts.
Corn Husk Doll
This doll makes an interesting center piece for the Thanksgiving table.You will need:
- dried corn husks
- a bowl of warm water
- buttons, fabric scraps, and other odds and ends
To work with the dried corn husks, soak them in the warm water for about half an hour before you begin, to make them easier to shape.
Select several large strong husks and fold them in half. Tie a piece of string near the fold to make a head for your doll. To create arms, place several smaller husks between the ends and perpendicular to the large husks. Slide the arms up to the string at the base of the head. Use another piece of string to tie a waist on the large husks just below the arms.
Now use two pieces of string to tie off each end of the smaller husks to create hands for your doll. If your doll is wearing a dress fluff the ends of the large husks. If you prefer your doll in pants, split the end of the large husks just under the waist to form two legs. Tie off the bottom of each leg to create feet.
Allow your doll to dry thoroughly. Once it is dry use the markers, fabric scraps, buttons, and other items to make a face and clothing for your doll.
Try creating some dolls shaped like animals too.
This activity requires soaking the kernels overnight.You will need:
- Indian corn kernels
- a bowl of water
- heavy sewing needle
- embroidery floss
If you intend to make a corn husk doll first remove the husks from the cob. Next remove the kernels from the cob by starting at the thickest end of the cob. Use your thumbs to push the kernels up and out of the cob. The first few are usually the hardest to remove.
As the kernels are removed, place them in the bowl of water to soak. Leave them in the water over night. The next day pour the water from the bowl leaving just the kernels.
Measure a length of embroidery floss long enough to make a necklace that easily slips over your head, be sure to include an inch or two for tying the necklace. Now double the length of the floss and cut it. Thread the embroidery floss through the needle and double it, knotting it at the free end.
Select the kernels you desire for your necklace and carefully thread each kernel onto the floss. Slide the kernels down to within an inch of the knotted end. Thread as many kernels as will fit onto the floss leaving one inch free of kernels near the needle.
Cut the floss off the needle and tie the two ends of your necklace together. Allow it to dry before wearing it.
A Bird Cob FeederYou will need:
- a dry corn cob
- peanut butter
- table knife
- large nail
Use the table knife to spread the corn cob with peanut butter. Roll the coated cob in the birdseed, sprinkle it on, or place the cob into a bag with bird seed and shake.
Push the large nail into the thick end of the cob. Tie a string to the head of the nail and then dangle your bird cob feeder from a tree branch.
Books for Children
- The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh - A nicely written story about the voyage, hard winter, and first Thanksgiving as one Pilgrim family might have experienced it. Appropriate for children 6-10. (amazon.com has it)
- Tapenum’s Day A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Times by Kate Waters - This book shows what one day in the life of a Native American boy during the 1620’s was like. Accompanied by photographs of a real boy playing the historical role, it is accurate and informative. Interesting to children ages 6-10. (amazon.com has it)
- Sarah Morton’s Day A Day In The Life Of A Pilgrim Girl by Kate Waters - Photographs of a real girl playing the part of a Pilgrim in the 1620’s, this book is interesting and informative. Children ages 6-10 will enjoy this story. (amazon.com has it)
- Giving Thanks A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp - The words in this book are based on an ancient Iroquois message of appreciation, the Thanksgiving Address. Accompanied with bright illustrations this book is appropriate for children ages 3-8. (amazon.com has it)
- A Turkey For Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting - This story about a turkey forced to go with Mr. Moose to the Moose’s house because he is wanted for Thanksgiving dinner is surprised to find he is the guest of honor. (amazon.com has it) It is also available as a book and audio cassette pack. (amazon.com has it)
- Friendship’s First Thanksgiving by William Accorsi - This fictional tale nicely describes the winter before as well as the first Thanksgiving from the view point of a Pilgrim’s dog. It is an interesting story for children 4-8. This book is currently out of print so check your local library for a copy.
- Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley - This is the story of a young boy who adopts the turkey he has been given to eat for Thanksgiving as a pet. How will the giver, his father, react when he finds out? Spanish words woven into the story are clear in their meaning, although a glossary at the end defines each word. Great for children ages 4-10. (amazon.com has it)
- The Center for World Thanksgiving at Thanks-Giving Square - this site reflects upon multicultural traditions of giving thanks and has a page about the United Nations unanimous declaration for the year 2000 to be the International Year of Thanksgiving.
- National Museum of the American Indian by the Smithsonian Institution - artifacts, textiles, and artistry are main features of this site as well as links to further information.
- The Pilgrims and America's First Thanksgiving by Thanksgiving on the Net - describes the history, voyage, beliefs, and customs of the Pilgrims.
Read our biographies of Michael Naranjo, Sacagawea, and Sitting Bull to learn about some famous Native Americans and their cultures.
Learn the characteristics and habits of the wild turkey.