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Puritans, Pilgrims and Thanksgiving Dinner

Published by Darrin Fedrick

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The Pilgrims wanted the church created by Henry VIII “purified” by returning simplicity to the worship. Henry VIII created the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, as a convenience measure to grant him a divorce from Katherine of Aragon when she couldn’t give him a male heir to the throne. The Pope wouldn’t grant the divorce so Henry developed a new church which granted him the divorce, enabling him to marry Anne Boleyn.

Saints and Strangers

Disagreements among the Puritans ruptured the group into two factions: Pilgrims and Puritans. They both wanted the same thing but change did not come about easily in the English church. Growing more impatient and vocal, the Pilgrims did not see that any changes were coming forth. Frustrated, they decided to leave and set up another religion on their own terms in the New World. They called those in sympathy with them “saints” and all others “strangers.”

Political Upheaval in England

The more tolerant Puritans felt that they could ride out the tide until the changes came about, so they stayed in England while Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII, reigned. After the queen’s death, the situation grew worse under James I, and they complained bitterly until the new king announced that he wanted to “hound them out of the realm.”

When Charles I came to power, the Puritans found their situation intolerable and fled to America where they took up residence in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Here they agreed to live under the constraints of John Winthrop’s plan, “Model of Christian Charity.” Today the Puritan church is still in evidence with a new name, the Congregationalists.

Black and White Dress

Today we envision the Puritans as somber, dour people with no sense of humor or fun, dressed in black with white collars and cuffs and buckles adorning their hats and shoes. The truth is that they wore colorful clothes, danced, made music and drank ale and wine.

They despised any waste of time or money. For example, they discouraged gambling and cards, not because they were evil, but because these diversions wasted time and sometimes money.

Since black cloth was expensive and hard to find, the colonists wore black clothes only on Sundays at the church services. During the week, they wore colors such as purple, blue, red, green, beige, gray and brown. They never wore buckles since these items were expensive.

Thanksgiving Holiday

The first Thanksgiving was a 3 day holiday celebrated by the Pilgrims and 90 of their Wampanoag neighbors in 1621. Almost 250 years later in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day to be a national holiday. Since the Civil War was in progress, the Confederacy refused to participate in the celebration. However they set up a truce in at least one battle when the Confederates refrained from firing on Union soldiers during the holiday.

The Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

The only two items that were definitely on the menu were mentioned in “A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth” by Edward Winslow. These were venison and wild fowl, which included turkey, goose, duck, swan and partridge

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