History tells us that the pilgrims and Indians shared the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621. There was an English custom of celebration of the harvest in the fall of the year. The food there did not reflect what we associate with Thanksgiving Day fare today. Likely they ate goose, codfish, corn and apples. The Indians celebrated with them and the Pilgrims were grateful to the Indians for helping some of them survive. Their first year and journey on the sea brought illness and great loss of life. The Indians taught them farming, hunting and survival techniques.
I am sure our Salzburger ancestors in the late 1730s shared thanks for the harvest and were also grateful to the Indians who provided food that kept many of them from starving in the new world. They took the time to thank God for his bounty and mercy and the right to freely celebrate their religion and freedom in the new world.
It was not until 1863, during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, that Thanksgiving became a national holiday. People came to have a holiday from work and therefore a celebration became possible. Farmers, of course, were in harvest season but did stop to have a meal and it was special. Now with a less agrarian economy, even more people are at home for the holiday. In the South, that holiday falls now during hunting season for deer and other game. Usually though, the hunters do come in to eat and partake of the big meal.
In times gone by we went “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” to a family gathering and feast. The table was laden with turkey and dressing (stuffing as some non-Southerners call it), ham, sweet potatoes, mashed Irish potatoes, giblet gravy, greens, beans and cranberry sauce. Families ate their fill and then loaded a dessert plate with pumpkin, pecan, apple or sweet potato pie along with cakes including pound cake full of new crop pecans. The photo provided was a family photo at my paternal grandmother’s home in the 1960s. All of the extended family including out of town relatives showed up. Her big bountiful table brought so much satisfaction to many. I think now that “those were the good old days.” Grandmother is no longer living, many at the table are deceased and her house no longer exists, having sat where the present Effingham County Judicial Complex now stands.
Family traditions have changed. Many people do not cook like we used to. The meal today in some households consists of a turkey and stuffing purchased at a grocery store already prepared that is just heated and served. Pies are already baked, ready to take home and serve. Gravy comes in cans or jars. Very few still grind the cranberries and oranges for the homemade cranberry sauce. You can say what you want, but this meal is not what we used to have. It may be “OK” and as good as some people know of but those of us who remember know better food came years ago. After the traditional meal, many settle in for a day of football games on television. In times gone by, the young people played outside entertaining themselves using their imagination and ingenuity and the farmers and older children went back to their harvests after the noon Thanksgiving meal.
New traditions are born and some families that have dwindled with the loss of grandparents or live away from extended family now choose to eat out. The meal is not as tasty as what we once ate but offers a relaxing wonderful time not having to tend the oven and range top. Some women work and cannot find time to prepare the food and others plainly just cannot cook. Many look forward to a nontraditional ritual of sharing a meal in a restaurant.
Whatever your tradition, please be safe and happy and enjoy the many blessings that we have. One of the constants in our lives is change and as new customs evolve, be thankful for families and friends to share them with. Remember our soldiers who are in harm’s way protecting our freedom and their families in your prayers and gifts today. Give thanks and share with others who are less fortunate.
Historic Effingham Society wishes you a healthy happy Thanksgiving full of your family traditions.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org