Pictures of the first Thanksgiving observance of the Pilgrims 398 years ago have always raised a question in my mind. Governor William Bradford and the 50 survivors of the original 102 Mayflower passengers, along with members of the friendly Wampanoag Tribe, are shown about to give thanks after a harrowing year when more than half the Pilgrim party perished from disease and hardship as the Plymouth settlement was hacked out of the wilderness.
I assume the artists strove for authenticity and consulted surviving contemporary accounts of the historic event. If so, how come the feast is shone as taking place out of doors? Late autumn in Massachusetts can be frigid and yet the celebrants are seen sitting at tables beneath the trees while cozy log cabins are shone in the background. I think I may have figured out one possible reason for this incongruity.
Bill Bradford probably came home one day and announced to his wife, “Dear, I’ve proclaimed a thanksgiving feast here for a week from today. I just sent a runner over to invite Chief Massasoit and some of his people. They’ve been so helpful. The harvest has been good, Miles Standish and John Alden will hunt for venison and turkeys, we’ll get lobsters and clams from the beaches and we’ll brew some beer. Maybe we’ll even have some foot races. It should be a lot of fun.”
“A week from today? Oh no!” exclaimed Mrs. Bradford. “I’ll never get this place ready in just one week. The floors have to be scraped and refinished, the windows washed and I’ll want you to paint the cabinets and fix our rickety chairs. And, oh dear, the dishes are all chipped and we don’t have enough pewter mugs or utensils. Oh dear!”
“I had no idea we were living in such squalor,” the governor said, trying to add a little levity.
“The hearth’s to be scrubbed and I’ll have to weave a new tablecloth and do something about our ragged curtains, ” Mrs. Bradford moaned. “I don’t want us disgraced in front of our guests, the Wampanoags.” she said.
“But, dear, they live in huts made out of bark and deerskins,” the governor pleaded, but to no avail.
And that’s why he amended his proclamation to call for an outdoor event and why most husbands today would agree to make Thanksgiving feasts simpler as long as there’s a roast turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie, foot races by the younger attendees and a nearby TV to watch the gridiron games.