1st Thanksgiving was NOT with Pilgrims & was NOT about Food

Thanksgiving with my family is simple…like the real first official Thanksgiving in America.

In the month of November, our family does a service project to celebrate the meaning of the holiday – gratitude.  On Thanksgiving morning, my children and I watch the parade on television as we eagerly await Santa’s first appearance of the year.  Then, we play all afternoon, including: tag, hide-n-seek, board games, and our favorite – using Daddy as a jungle gym.   For dinner, I don’t spend any more time than usual in the kitchen.  My children and I typically eat salmon, wild rice, and a vegetable while my husband eats pizza. Everyone is happy – we all eat foods that we love, and since I don’t spend hours in the kitchen, I have enough energy to enjoy the day with my family.   Little did I know that going against the grain would mean our family’s rogue tradition would be more aligned with the first official English Thanksgiving than the stressful feasts I used to host to commemorate the Pilgrims.


The 1st official Thanksgiving was NOT with the Pilgrims and it was NOT about food.


In school, I learned that the first English Thanksgiving took place in Massachusetts in the autumn of 1621 when the Pilgrims feasted with the Wampanoag Indians.  But, that’s not actually true. The first known official Thanksgiving occurred in Virginia!  It was held on December 4, 1619, one year and 17 days before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts and almost 2 years before the feast took place that we commonly refer to as the first Thanksgiving.


It all began when over 30 men set sail from England on the “Good Ship Margaret” on September 16, 1619.  When they arrived in the New World, they dropped anchor and rowed to shore in Berkeley, Virginia.   Upon touching land for the first time in nearly 2-1/2 months, the men stood in complete silence as they gazed upon the beautiful trees surrounding them.  In that moment, the men knelt on the grass as their Captain began to pray:  “We ordaine that this day of our ships arrival, at the place assigned for plantacon, in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”


Prayer was the first official English Thanksgiving in America.   There was no food, no games, and no Indians. It was simple – just a prayer to give thanks to God.


So, why don’t most Americans know about the real first official Thanksgiving?


Interestingly, in 1962, Kennedy issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation that gave full credit to the Pilgrims.  Later, a correction was issued by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. – writing on behalf of President Kennedy – where he stated the “error” was due to New England bias in the White House.   In his Thanksgiving Proclamation the following year, President Kennedy corrected the mistake: “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and Massachusetts, far from home, in a lonely wilderness set aside a time of Thanksgiving. They gave thanks for their safety, the health of their children, the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.”


Historical Side Note: President Kennedy was assassinated 18 days later. But, the first official English Thanksgiving was not forgotten.  It was recognized by Congress in 1969, and later by several historians (Read MORE).   Each year a Thanksgiving Festival is hosted at the historic Berkeley Plantation to commemorate the event.

This year, my family was blessed with an opportunity to visit the plantation and watch a re-enactment of the official first English Thanksgiving in America.   We watched as the men who sailed across the treacherous Atlantic Ocean stepped foot on the fertile soil of Virginia, got down on their knees, and gave thanks to God.    In that moment, I was reminded of how blessed I am.   I have everything that truly matters to me – a loving and supportive husband, 2 kids that I adore, dogs who never leave my side, and “good health.”   It’s funny because growing up, I never wished for “good health.”  I always just assumed I would be healthy.  I assumed I would have the ability to travel, bike with my children, and play tag with my grandchildren.  It’s amazing how easy it is to take something for granted,until you lose it.   Seeing those men, kneeling down and humbly giving thanks to God for sparing their lives, reaffirmed what Thanksgiving is all about.


For me, Thanksgiving is not about food.  


It used to be.  Thanksgiving used to be about finding the best recipes and cooking everything from scratch.  It used to be about slaving away in the kitchen for hours to impress my guests and then being too tired to enjoy the meal with them.  It used to be about keeping the kids occupied on the T.V. so they didn’t interrupt me as I diligently tried to get everything cooked and cleaned before the guests arrived.  Not any more. When I got sick, I chose to find a more simple way to celebrate Thanksgiving – one where food was not the centerpiece, but more of a side dish.


For me, Thanksgiving is now about relationships.


It’s a reminder to give thanks to God for my many blessings.   It’s a reminder to slow down and cherish every moment I have with my children and husband. It’s a reminder to appreciate the simple things in life. Before long, I’ll look back and wonder where the time has gone.  My first-born is already 8-years old.  Those first 8 years seemed to go by in a blink.  I don’t want to look back and realize that my Thanksgiving memories are filled with images of me cooking alone in the kitchen and being too tired to play with my children. I want my Thanksgiving memories to be filled with images of my children smiling as we play board games together, the sound of their laughter as I chase them around the house playing tag, the warmth of my husband’s arms wrapped around me as we sit on the couch and enjoy the stilness, and the feeling of joy that fills my heart when I allow myself to slow down and live in the moment.   It’s in those moments that I am truly happy – I am at peace and in harmony with myself and with life.  It’s in those moments that I am truly free.


To find my freedom, I had to break from what has become “tradition” in America.  I had to choose a simpler way – a path that surprisingly turned out to be more closely aligned with the real first Thanksgiving. 


No matter how you celebrate, my wish for you on this Thanksgiving is that you feel truly free. And, when you look back, I hope your heart is filled with happy memories and I pray you feel loved.

Happy Thanksgiving!




Author’s Note:  There were many thanksgivings throughout history, which were religious in nature.  There was even a thanksgiving at Jamestown in 1607, but it was not “official.” According to the Berkeley Plantation, the thanksgiving at Berkeley “was considered ‘official’ — as they were ordered by England to give thanks — and it was planned, not spontaneous, as many Thanksgivings in the New World were. It was also not a one-time celebration, but repeated annually, as the Englishmen were instructed.  We know about this Thanksgiving thanks to research done by Dr. Lyon Tyler, son of President John Tyler.”



1. http://www.berkeleyplantation.com/first-thanksgiving.html

2. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-was-on-the-menu-at-the-first-thanksgiving-511554/

3. https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/the-reverend-robert-hunt-the-first-chaplain-at-jamestown.htm

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