From The Bench

What are Thanksgiving Symbols?

Thanksgiving symbols are a memorable and crucial part of the celebration of Thanksgiving in America and throughout the world. Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving secularly (or not), it’s always a nice touch to know the Thanksgiving symbols and signs that make the celebration more meaningful.

Thanksgiving Day is a U.S. and Canadian public holiday observed to give thanks for the previous year’s harvests and other benefits.

Many people in the United States think a harvest feast inspired Thanksgiving that the English colonists (Pilgrims) of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the Wampanoag people of Massachusetts Bay Colony enjoyed in 1621.

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The Origins of the Signs

Thanksgiving symbols and metaphors abound in American Thanksgiving, and the typical Thanksgiving menu includes turkey, stuffing, and potatoes, as well as cranberries and pumpkin pie. In addition, the holiday season is frequently the busiest for car travel, as families assemble to spend time together.

In Plymouth, the Thanksgiving holiday and the genesis of Thanksgiving symbols began with a handful of colonists hunting for ducks, geese, turkeys, and other edible fowl.

Then, some 90 Wampanoag appeared unexpectedly at the settlement’s gate, perhaps frightening the settlement’s 50 or so residents. Despite this, the two groups interacted over the following few days without incident.

Fish, eels, shrimp, stews, vegetables, and beer were likely served during the feast, to which the Wampanoag also brought venison. As a result of the lack of structures and manufactured products in Plymouth, most people ate their meals outside, either on the ground or seated on barrels.

With poor English and Wampanoag communication, the guys engaged in various activities, including shooting weapons, racing, and drinking. When King Philip’s War broke out, hundreds of colonists and thousands of Native Americans were killed in a bloodbath that lasted for over a year.

The event was essentially used to commemorate “Thanksgiving” days when they prayed to God for blessings like military victories or the abolition of a drought. For example, the Continental Congress of the United States declared a national Thanksgiving holiday after the Constitution was signed into law.

There were several reasons for this: some resisted federal involvement in a religious holiday, Southerners balked at adopting a New England habit, and others opposed the holiday being exploited for political rallies and parades after 1798. As a result, the idea of a national Thanksgiving holiday looked more like a spark than a unifying force.

Major Thanksgiving Symbols in America

Pilgrims

Thanksgiving was a religious observance for the English colonists known as the Pilgrims. This was not a time for feasting but for prayer. Historically, we can trace the origins of our most celebrated national holiday back to a harvest feast held in memory of the first successful harvest in the Plymouth Colony in the fall of 1621. This first “Turkey Day” is seen in the slideshow below. The first Thanksgiving’s guests, whether they ate turkey or not, most likely ate a lot of meat. According to Winslow’s account, the Wampanoag visitors arrived bearing a gift of five deer to share. Deer may have been cooked over an open fire, and the colonists may have used part of the meat to make a substantial stew, according to culinary experts.

Given that the Pilgrims were celebrating their first fall harvest during the 1621 Thanksgiving holiday, it’s safe to assume that the colonists partaken of the abundance they’d harvested with their Native American neighbors. Onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, and peas were among the local veggies served. According to reports from the first harvest, corn was abundant, but not how we enjoy it now. In those days, a thick corn mush or porridge was made by boiling and pounding the cornmeal, which had been taken off the cob and occasionally sweetened with molasses.

In addition to blueberries, plums, and cranberries, the region’s indigenous fruits included grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and, of course, cranberries. It is possible that the Pilgrims (which eventually became one of the major Thanksgiving symbols) were familiar with cranberries by the first Thanksgiving, but it is unlikely that they would have prepared sauces and relishes with the destructive orbs. This is since, by November 1621, the sugar bags carried by the Mayflower had been emptied. Around 50 years after that, cooks began cooking cranberries with sugar and using the concoction to complement meats.

The Mayflower set sail in September 1620 with over 100 individuals on board, many of whom were seeking religious freedom.

In November of that year, the ship sailed into present-day Massachusetts and landed on Cape Cod’s coast. In late December, a reconnaissance team was dispatched and landed in Plymouth Harbor, where they would establish the first European settlement.

“Pilgrim Fathers,” or simply “Pilgrims,” are the names of the early Plymouth colonists.

Thirty-five members of the extreme Puritan party known as the English Separatist Church were part of the expedition that departed Plymouth in September 1620. For the following ten years, the Separatists lived in Amsterdam and Leiden under the comparatively mild Dutch rules after breaking away from the Church of England illegally in 1607.

Economic hardships and anxieties that they might lose their English language and history prompted them to arrange for a new home in the New World. As far as anybody knew, they were headed for an area along the Hudson River that was part of Virginia, which was well-established in history. The Mayflower, a three-masted commercial ship, sailed from London to Plymouth in 1620 to transport the people to the New World.

The Native Americans

Thanksgiving invites people to reflect on their blessings and spend time with loved ones. Teachers regularly include holiday-themed activities in their lessons. Native customs have evolved over millennia and are diverse and complicated. Each tribe has its own unique set of characteristics. People who create art or craft based on Native American customs promote prejudices about the people.

When presenting the history of the “First Thanksgiving” history, it is critical to include Native American viewpoints. Giving gratitude is an integral part of the culture of many Native American tribes and is still done today. The First Thanksgiving is generally depicted as a peaceful harvest party where Pilgrims and generic, nameless “Indians” joined together to eat and offer thanks. Political ties and diplomacy were at the heart of the meeting of the Wampanoag People and English settlers in 1621, and let’s not forget the essential desire for peace.

Historically, the Wampanoag Peoples dealt with various Native American nations long before the English came. They exchanged their land, food, and environmental expertise with the English. The first Thanksgiving wouldn’t have happened if the English didn’t get aid from the Wampanoag.

Corn

The grain maize, commonly referred to as “corn,” holds significant symbolic meaning for people worldwide; it also occupies a prominent space in our collection of Thanksgiving symbols. Humans have relied on it as a critical food source for millennia. In general, maize signifies fertility, wealth, and a sense of happiness. In addition, it might represent growth, an essential component of existence.

Corn has long been the subject of several urban legends and folklore, and many people, particularly farmers, still adhere to these ideas wholeheartedly. Therefore, another favorable indication is seeing maize in your dreams, which can represent various positive things.

Like many other foodstuffs, corn has long been associated with good fortune and procreation.

The area surrounding you may be unusually fertile, indicating that you should start growing some veggies or that you are particularly fruitful at the moment. Seeing a corn cob on the road might indicate that you’re about to get a surprise guest. People who believe in this interpretation tend to tidy their homes and prepare for unexpected guests.

In the past, many framers believed that when the husk of corn was more extensive than its hairs, the winters would be long and harsh.

Corn dolls are a joint religious offering in many cultures. This is a common occurrence throughout the world’s civilizations.

Naad’ (corn) is the main staple of Diné (Navajo) existence and a symbol of sustenance in Dinétah (the Diné homeland) in Native American settings. In addition to providing food and medicine, it is one of four sacred plants given to the Diné. Eating maize can help cleanse your mind and open your eyes to new information.

 The spirituality of the Diné people is closely linked to the bodily well-being provided by grain. But, first, humans were made by the Diyin Dine’é (Holy People) from cor, according to sacred tales.

An abundance of táddn (yellow pollen) on each corn stalk is gathered and utilized in rituals and as a blessing. For example, Kinaaldá, the ritual for g’s coming-of-age, includes the preparation of a prominent roasted corn cake. The Hózhj (Blessing) is centered on corn, corn pollen, and the creation of people and everything else.

In the civilizations of many North American indigenous peoples, maize is a recurring emblem. Therefore, even though many people today refer to it as “corn,” the term “maize” will be used solely in this article to prevent misunderstandings.

Symbolically speaking, maize isn’t all that different from other related meals. For example, it is often compared to wheat/bread in European and Middle Eastern cultures, as well as rice in many regions of eastern Asia.

The importance of maize was so great that it was a part of indigenous religious beliefs in various parts of the Americas. Tribes in the northeastern United States and elsewhere use the renowned “Three Sisters” notion as an example. There were three main crops in this region: maize (which was a staple diet for these peoples), beans (which were used to make tendrils that wrapped around the stalk), and squash (which grew in a clump at its base). Physical proximity and sharing a common life source contributed to the development of the idea that people are ‘sisters.’

Among the Mayan civilization of southern Mexico and Fundamental America, maize was even a central part of their mythology of the beginning of time. Another theory claims that the gods created maize flour by mixing their blood with maize flour so that the first humans could be born. Corn has been depicted in several works of art from around the Americas, some of which date back over two thousand years, in addition to its gastronomic and religious significance. Widespread instances of this pattern include the Aztec and Moche civilizations in Mexico’s north and central region and the Inca and Moche cultures in Peru.

Pumpkins

Nothing kicks off the Thanksgiving season like a slice of pumpkin pie, with its warm spice filling and flaky crust. The pie itself is a worthy addition to anyone’s list of Thanksgiving symbols.

Other holidays do not incorporate pumpkins. This holiday and the weeks leading up to it are all about pumpkins. However, the squash was once as common as bread, with the American colonists relying on it to produce bread when the wheat crop was inadequate. In what way did the humble pumpkin evolve into a beloved holiday treat? It’s a tale that’s been brewing for more than 10,000 years.

Having a basic understanding of the orange pumpkin’s life cycle is essential to comprehending its unusual destiny. Cucurbita pepo is the species name for the bright pumpkin, which also contains acorn squash, beautiful gourds, and even zucchini in its family. Cucurbita pepo cultivars, variants of the same species chosen by human farmers, are found in all of these distinct forms. Technically, they are vegetables, yet many people still call them fruits.

A large animal herbivore helped to sustain the abundance of wild versions of this squash before humans arrived on the continent of the United States. When humans came and hunted the large herbivores to oblivion, many of the untamed squashes and gourds went extinct as well. Squashes (including pumpkins) were the first domesticated plant in the Americas because people continued to grow them. Archaeologists in Oaxaca, Mexico, discovered the earliest specimen of orange field pumpkin seeds and dated them to 10,000 years before the domestication of corn and beans.

Native Americans in the Southwest began growing maize, beans, and squash on farms around 2500 B.C., but they had been doing it for much longer. Since its arrival, squash has been grown and revered by Native Americans in every region, from Haudenosaunee tribes in northern New York to the Cherokee in southern Georgia.

The indigenous crop was ubiquitous when the Europeans came. On his first trip, Columbus noted them, Jacques Cartier documented their growth in Canada during the 1530s, Cabeza de Vaca observed them in Florida during the 1540s, and Hernando de Soto saw them during his first journey in the 1550s,” says historian Mary Miley Theobald. Traditionally, Native Americans prepared squash in various ways, including roasting, chopping, pressing, powdering, and drying strips into vegetable jerky.

These colonists relied heavily on squash as a food source and had little difficulty identifying the many cultivars of Cucurbita pepo. As a result, squash was used interchangeably with a pumpkin through the colonial era. It’s unclear if the Pilgrims ever ate pumpkin at their famous Thanksgiving feast with the Native Americans, but experts believe that they probably ate it that day and the days before and after.

Turkey

Thanksgiving invites people to gather with family and friends and enjoy a hearty feast. Bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and turkey are all traditional Thanksgiving fare. So how did the turkey end up being the star of the show and one of the most well-known Thanksgiving symbols?

The “first Thanksgiving” is the inspiration for today’s Thanksgiving dinner. According to historical records, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people at Plymouth colony (in what is now Massachusetts) had supper in late 1621. However, there’s no sign that turkey was on the menu.

The Wampanoag gave deer meat, while the Pilgrims provided wild “fowl” as a meat alternative. Historically, historians believe the “birds” were more likely ducks or geese than turkeys, which were native to the area.

Furthermore, it doesn’t appear that the Pilgrims saw this dinner as a significant event deserving recognition. Beyond a letter sent by Plymouth colonist Edward Winslow in the 17th century, there is no record of its existence.

Giving gratitude for the fall harvest was nothing new to the Pilgrims. “Days of thanksgiving” were trendy among New England’s colonists, having origins in European harvest festivals and Christian religious observances. However, communities across colonial America celebrated Thanksgiving informally, and few people connected these celebrations to the Pilgrims of Plymouth.

Regarding Thanksgiving and other special events in the early 19th century, turkey was a popular choice. This was due to several factors. To begin with, birds were abundant. According to one researcher, there were at least 10 million turkeys in North America at the time of European contact. Second, there were generally always turkeys to be slaughtered on a family farm.

If cows and chickens provided milk and eggs, they were valuable; turkeys were grown for meat and could be quickly slaughtered. Third, a single turkey could often feed a family of four.

While turkeys were not yet connected with Thanksgiving, this was not the case. Although, it has been attributed to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843) that Turkey has become a popular choice for a holiday dinner among some. On the other hand, Sarah Josepha Hale was a far more significant contributor.

An entire chapter is dedicated to depicting a New England Thanksgiving in her 1827 novel, Northwood. A roasted turkey “put at the head of the table” is what she describes. Amidst all the turmoil of the American Civil War, she also launched an effort to create Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday in the United States. Finally, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation recognizing her achievements.

There is national mythology around Thanksgiving as it became an official American holiday. The supper recorded by Winslow was referred to as “the first Thanksgiving” in a compilation of Pilgrim literature published in 1841.

However, fellow colonist William Bradford did remark a “large supply of wild Turkeys” in Plymouth that fall in a record that was reprinted decades later, in 1856, although Winslow did not name turkeys explicitly.

The Pilgrims, turkeys, and Thanksgiving were inextricably linked in American schoolchildren’s curriculum and became de facto Thanksgiving symbols. Turkey, on the other hand, has remained reasonably inexpensive. There are now millions of wild turkeys in the United States even though they were previously believed extinct. Turkeys have also become more extensive and affordable, thanks to current breeding procedures. This ensures their place on the Thanksgiving table.

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