Giving thanks in modern day America

Special to the Malibu Times

There are many recounts of “first Thanksgivings,” but the most familiar story is that of the when the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621 shared an autumn feast in celebration of a successful harvest.

It was not for another 200 years that President Abraham Lincoln would declare the final Thursday in November to be the national day of giving thanks. Congress approved Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday in 1941.

Though not a great deal is known about the first Thanksgiving meal, records show that the event was less elaborate than people think. It was considered a symbolic occasion of the cooperation and interaction between the English colonists and Native Americans. Unlike the one-day holiday of today, the first meal, based on the English harvest festivals, was a three-day event. However, it did not become a yearly tradition until later.

Many foods that we consider to be staples of the modern Thanksgiving meal were probably not part of the first meal. While turkey is the culinary symbol of the holiday today, it is unlikely that it was served at the first meal. Historians only know for certain two items that were on the menu: venison and wild fowl, according to Edward Winslow’s writing in “A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth.”

Other modern-day staples, such as corn, were not in season and probably not included in the feast. It is also unlikely that foods such as ham and potatoes were served.


In addition to deer meat, other meats that may have been on the table are lobster, seal, swan and fish, including eel, sea bass and cod, according to Kathleen Curtin, food historian at Plymouth Plantation. The Pilgrims did not eat with forks, but used spoons, knives and their fingers.

While it was American colonialist Governor William Bradford who proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer after that first harvest in 1621, it was the Continental Congress during the American Revolution that suggested a national day of giving thanks, according to In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom, and by the middle of the 19th century many other states had done the same. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving.

Though there are many points of contrast between the Thanksgiving of today and the Thanksgiving that occurred nearly 388 years ago, both share a similar premise-giving thanks for the many blessings in life.

Malibu Celebrations

Malibu Presbyterian Church will host the annual Thanksgiving Interfaith service on Thanksgiving Day at 10 a.m. All members of the community are welcome at the ecumenical gathering. Malibu Presbyterian is “honored to host the annual interfaith service this year as a testament to our renewed sense of service and appreciation to the community,” Church employee Erin Stowell said.

Also, Malibu United Methodist Church will host its 13th annual Thanksgiving meal for the homeless. Church members will volunteer to serve meals to the less fortunate Thanksgiving Day from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. “It’s expected to be a great turnout this year,” Church employee Allie Massingill said in a phone interview Friday. “It’s always fun to work with the community to put this event together.” The meal takes place annually in honor of the first Thanksgiving feast.

Interfaith Service at Malibu Presbyterian Church: 3324 Malibu Canyon Rd.; more information can be obtained at

Thanksgiving meal at Malibu United Methodist Church: 30128 Morning View Dr.; more information can be obtained by calling 310.457.7505

The First Thanksgiving meal

Foods that may have been on the menu

Seafood: Cod, eel, clams, lobster

Wild Fowl: Wild turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, eagles

Meat: Venison, seal

Grain: Wheat flour, Indian corn

Vegetables: Pumpkin, peas, beans, onions, lettuce, radishes, carrots

Fruit: Plums, grapes

Nuts: Walnuts, chestnuts, acorns

Herbs and Seasonings: Olive oil, liverwort, leeks, dried currants, parsnips


The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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