Thanksgiving Traditions Through the Years


| LAST UPDATE 11/24/2021

By Xander Sharpe
first ever thanksgiving celebration
Universal History Archive Contributor via Getty Images

Get ready to put on your stretchiest pants because this Thursday is finally Thanksgiving! But before we prepare our feast and light our favorite fall candle, let us take a look back at how traditional turkey day meals have evolved.

thanksgiving feast dinner holiday
Kirn Vintage Stock / Contributor via Getty Images

Big juicy turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie... who doesn't love enjoying this filling meal surrounded by loved ones? But this American dinner wasn't always prepared the same way; the dishes served have changed throughout the years. The first Thanksgiving was documented to be in around 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. When the pilgrims officially had a successful harvest, they celebrated with a big feast, creating the traditional holiday. At the time, the celebrations lasted for three whole days.

turkey thanksgiving recipes meals
Smith Collection/Gado / Contributor via Getty Images

One of the men present, Edward Winslow, recounted the meal, "They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.… Many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted." Inside of turkey being the main star of the feast, it's been said that their dinner included deer as well as mussels and other kinds of seafood. It's not exactly clear when the bird became such a staple, but it might have been because turkeys are large enough for the entire family to enjoy.

marshmallow sweet potato recipe
The Washington Post / Contributor via Getty Images

The first-ever sides dishes were the newly grown vegetables of carrots, spinach, onion, cabbage, lettuce, beans, and a lot of corn. Today, the classic spread includes mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, stuffing, and more. Over the years, different food items became popular, and as more family's celebrated the holiday, new recipes came to be. For instance, putting marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes only started in 1917 after chef Janet Mckenzie Hill created the delicious recipe.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
cranberry sauce side dish
Jay L. Clendenin / Contributor via Getty Images

While today there's plenty of desserts, back then it wasn't eaten. Because by the time the national holiday was marked, the sugar that traveled with the Mayflower had gone bad. But, they still enjoyed nature's sweets, like plums, blueberries, and cranberries, which has continued to be a traditional item served. It wasn't until 1796 that cranberry sauce made its way to the table after it was added into the book "American Culinary.'

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln marked every final Thursday of November to be the official holiday day. And ever since, new traditions have been formed as thousands of close family and friends gather around the table, giving thanks and eating delicious food.