Gather 'Round: Unwrapping the Essence of Thanksgiving

Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Nov 22
6 min read
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Thanksgiving Feast
Chelsea Hafer Written By Chelsea Hafer

As the autumn leaves paint the trees gold and russet, and the air crisps with the promise of winter, families across the United States prepare for a heartfelt celebration that is quintessentially American—Thanksgiving. It's that time of the year when we come together to appreciate the bountiful blessings life has bestowed upon us. With the tantalizing scent of roast turkey and the comforting warmth of a crackling fire, Thanksgiving fills our hearts with gratitude. But have you ever wondered how this beloved holiday came to be? What stories lie behind the cornucopia of traditions and the delicious foods that grace our tables on this special day? Let's embark on a journey through time to unravel the rich tapestry of Thanksgiving's history and significance.

Thanksgiving, a holiday marked by feasting and gratitude, has a deep-rooted history dating back to English Pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower in the 17th century. They faced harsh conditions in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the Native American Wampanoag tribe aiding their adaptation. In 1621, a bountiful harvest led to a three-day feast often considered the first Thanksgiving. Over time, this tradition evolved into a national holiday thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale's efforts, solidified by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

mayflower ship

Thanksgiving's traditions, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and family gatherings, embody togetherness and gratitude. The classic meal, featuring roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, symbolizes blessings and harvest. The origins of popular Thanksgiving foods are steeped in history, influenced by survival, cultural exchange, and culinary innovation.

turkey

In the early 17th century, after surviving a grueling winter and establishing their food supply, Plymouth colony members held a harvest feast alongside the Wampanoag Indians. While wild turkey was likely part of the menu, it shared the stage with oysters, venison, duck, and eel, revealing the diversity of the first Thanksgiving fare. Stuffing, a quintessential Thanksgiving component, made its culinary debut in the late 18th century. Early settlers may have used herbs or crushed nuts to dress their birds, but our modern bread-based stuffing, soaked in butter, salt, pork, and aromatic herbs like sage and marjoram, appeared in American cookbooks much later.

Pumpkin pie, despite its all-American reputation, found its roots in the British upper classes during the 16th and 17th centuries. However, the beloved custardy version we adore today, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, became popular in the 1800s among Yankee homemakers. Mashed sweet potatoes with a marshmallow topping, now a classic Thanksgiving indulgence, emerged from the early 20th-century fascination with marshmallows, with the first known recipe dating back to 1917.

Jellied cranberry sauce, a staple of Thanksgiving tables, took shape in 1941, thanks to Marcus L. Urann, who revolutionized the cranberry industry and introduced the iconic canned version. Finally, the enduring green bean casserole, a post-war phenomenon, was born in 1955. Created by Dorcas Reilly of the Campbell's Soup Company, it combined canned onions, green beans, and cream of mushroom soup, becoming a beloved Thanksgiving tradition. These culinary evolutions reflect the rich history and enduring traditions of Thanksgiving cuisine.

Giving Thanks Around the World

Around the world, various cultures and regions have their own unique ways of expressing gratitude and celebrating days of thanks. While Thanksgiving in the United States is perhaps the most widely recognized, there are several other holidays that share a common theme of thanksgiving, gratitude, and harvest celebrations. These holidays offer a glimpse into the diverse traditions and customs of different cultures.

Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles, is a biblical holiday celebrated by Jewish people. Occurring between late September and late October, it commemorates the Israelites' 40 years of travel in the desert after their liberation from slavery in Egypt, as described in the Bible. This 7-day tradition includes special prayer services and holiday meals, providing a time for Jewish communities to reflect on their ancestors' experiences and express gratitude.

Chuseok, a major harvest festival in Korea, is celebrated for three days on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. During Chuseok, Koreans return to their hometowns to engage in traditional rituals honoring their ancestors. They visit and clean the areas around their ancestors' tombs and offer food, drink, and crops as tributes. Japchae, bulgogi, and songpyeon (a crescent-shaped rice cake) are among the popular foods prepared during this holiday, emphasizing gratitude for the year's harvest.

songpyeon
vietnamese lanterns

In Vietnam, the Tết Trung Thu Festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, is celebrated in September or early October. This festival is often referred to as the Children's Festival, as it revolves around the belief that children symbolize innocence and purity, representing a close connection to the sacred and natural world. During Tết Trung Thu, children light lanterns and perform lively lion dances as part of the celebration, creating a joyful atmosphere and highlighting the significance of family and children in Vietnamese culture.

In this blog post, we've explored the significance of Thanksgiving and various other holidays worldwide that celebrate the profound virtue of gratitude. We've delved into the historical origins and captivating traditions of these holidays, from the cherished Thanksgiving feast in the United States to Sukkot's reflection on the Israelites' desert journey, and Chuseok's heartfelt homage to ancestors in Korea. These holidays all share a common thread – they are occasions to express gratitude, foster unity, and celebrate the abundance in our lives. From sumptuous feasts to heartwarming family gatherings, these traditions remind us of the importance of giving thanks for our blessings. They also highlight the universality of gratitude, transcending cultural boundaries.

As we reflect on these wonderful traditions, we encourage you to share your thoughts, experiences, or upcoming holiday plans in the comments section below. Whether you're celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States, or any other special day of thanks, let's come together to celebrate the spirit of gratitude and unity that these holidays are all about.

happy thanksgiving block letters
Chelsea Hafer, True Leaf Market Writer

Chelsea is a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture and loves getting her hands dirty and watching things grow! She graduated from Georgetown University in 2022 with a degree in Environmental Justice and now resides in Park City, Utah, where she works as a ski instructor. Her love for nature extends to gardening and hiking, and she has gained valuable insights from working on farms in Italy, Hawaii, and Mexico, learning various sustainable agriculture techniques like permaculture and Korean Natural Farming.

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