The late 1700’s/early 1800’s saw the beginnings of Thanksgiving spreading through the colonies. It was the biggest holiday of the year, predating Christmas in New England. Christmas did not arrive at the northern colonies until circa 1840-1850, with the later immigrants, though the Southern colonies started observing it much earlier.
Annually, the Governor of each colony designated a particular day of public Thanksgiving. A day dedicated to giving thanks to God for His blessings and abundance. As there was no separation of church and state in these times, the Governor could mandate church attendance, and Thanksgiving was celebrated at the end of November or early December.
In preparation for the holiday and the impending long, severe winter, copious preparations were set underway. Fall housecleaning was undertaken and food supplies were “put by” or preserved to last until fresh vegetables and meat became available again in the spring. Vegetables were canned and animals slaughtered, their meat smoked, dried or corned (brined).
Family members who worked or studied at distant places endeavored to come home for this annual party and merry-making. Often this gathering of the clans was an occasion to hold weddings and other important traditional ceremonies, as it was difficult for far-away members to travel easily and often in those days.
Large family groups would sit down to a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner, with wild turkey as the centerpiece as now. To augment the table to feed the large numbers, other meats such as pig and cattle meat were also served, along with native vegetables such as corn, squash and local fruits made into pies, both sweet and savory.
Throughout the country, in towns and hamlets, today, these traditional pioneering thanksgiving celebrations are simulated to the last detail, for the education and edification of the modern world. An engaging and fascinating glimpse into living history for the young ones.
Historic houses of the era are thrown open, and hold realistic demonstrations, conveying the spirit, feel and activities of this holiday from centuries ago. Tours take visitors through the mansions, farmyards and barns. Appropriately attired volunteers are hard at work, preserving heirloom vegetables of the day; exhibiting common activities and occupations, and children at play, with the colonial house wife bustling around.
The fire which was a constant throughout the day for heat, light and cooking provides a warm ambience, while some culinary treats that are extinct today will be on offer to see and maybe even sample. The cooking demonstrations may include chicken pie, considered a great delicacy, as was Marlborough Pudding.
For an authentic journey into Colonial America, locate your nearest Pioneer Thanksgiving Celebration, take the family and friends, experience the biggest holiday of those times, and see how far we have come today!