On Thanksgiving, a traditional meal will have turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce.
But how has the traditional meal changed over time? Tennessee Tech History Instructor Laura Smith said that the main difference comes from the creation of convenience foods. She said canning companies began to print recipes on their products as a marketing strategy.
“These companies really advertised to women as making holidays easier and more convenient for women,” Smith said. “I think that kind of contributes to what our modern-day holiday looks like. It has a lot more to do with what was going on in the 50s and 60s than what was happening in 1621.”
Smith said the first feast likely had a lot of foods native to the area. She said that includes fowl, beans, pumpkins, and corn. Smith said one thing that people might not realize is that seafood was a large part of the first Thanksgiving due to the proximity to the coast.
Smith said that while celebrations had been held over the years after the first feast, it was actually President Abraham Lincoln who created the first Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. She said it was in thanks for the Union being able to hold out during the war and as hope for a victory in the war.
Smith said one interesting point is that several presidents had suggested establishing a holiday to give thanks to God.
“Thomas Jefferson had very famously said that the United States shouldn’t have a national holiday of thanksgiving to God because it would be inappropriate that a nation based on religious freedom and a separation of church and state would have a holiday like this,” Smith said. “So I think our meal has a lot more to do with Lincoln and his feelings about that time in the war than about the first meal between Native Americans and the pilgrims.”
Smith said she thinks the holiday has evolved into something a little more secular than when it was first established by Lincoln.