Thanksgiving is upon us and with that comes the story of the first Thanksgiving being retold over and over again. The tale of the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth colony and held a grand feast with local Indigenous tribe members in which they celebrated a successful harvest harmoniously. However, debate has actually begun with regards to if this was actually the first Thanksgiving celebration in what is now the United States.
The classic tale of the first Thanksgiving, of the Pilgrims in Plymouth who sailed on the Mayflower and the Wampanoag tribe, took place in 1621. However, it was actually beaten by a similar ceremonious celebration with Spanish explorers and the Timucua tribe. This feast was in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. The two groups had a dinner and mass after the Spanish explorer team arrived safely. Furthermore, in 1619, another group of British settlers held a celebration on the banks of the James River in Virginia. During this, they read a formal proclamation declaring the day “a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” This was on the day they reached the land.
These are just two examples of historic moments predating the traditional first Thanksgiving.
Native American tribes also had their own versions of Thanksgiving. Many tribes had different celebrations to celebrate a successful harvest. These all long predated Europeans coming to the Americas. Other ancient groups held their own sort of similar ceremonies, predominately ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Each celebration typically consisted of a grand feast in which they would pay tribute to the gods in thanks for a vast fall harvest of crops. There is also a Jewish harvest celebration, held as a festival called Sukkot. This is all to say that the tale of Thanksgiving, as most often taught to us, may not truly be the first of its kind of American soil, and certainly not the first sort of celebration of its kind.
The modern Thanksgiving is not even the only of its kind.
Several other countries have a similar celebration to Thanksgiving. The U.S.’ neighbor, Canada, had their first Thanksgiving in 1578, over 40 years before the United States’ first. Their modern celebrations mirror those seen in the United States quite a bit. Germany also has a “harvest festival of thanks” celebration held in October, known as the Erntedankfest. These are just two examples of other countries, when in reality there are countless other Thanksgiving celebrations.