The Pilgrims wanted to celebrate their bountiful harvest, as was the English custom, with a time of feasting and rest from fieldwork. While they did give thanks to God, they did not consider this festival a "thanksgiving," which to them was a religious time of prayer and fasting.


photo of native American men greeting a pilgrim man

Photo by Webb Chappell / All Rights Reserved

photo of pilgrim women working at a kitchen table

Photo by Amaury Laporte / CC BY-NC 2.0

The men hunted game birds in preparation. The neighboring Wampanoags joined the festivities, bringing the venison of five deer. Together, there were 53 surviving colonists and about 90 natives. Besides the wild game, the menu included cod and bass, the harvest wheat and corn, and perhaps barley and peas.


Additional native foods were seafood, nuts, squashes, and beans. Strawberries, raspberries, and grapes grew wild. House-gardens may have included vegetables such as onions, lettuce, carrots, and radishes. With no oven and most likely a depleted sugar supply, the feast did not include pies, cakes, or other baked desserts.


The feast was not one big sit-down meal, as we know Thanksgiving today. The Pilgrims and their guests feasted for three whole days. Between meals, they amused themselves with "recreations" that probably included games, displays of strength and skill, and singing and dancing. They also demonstrated their weapons skills with muskets and bows and arrows.


At the end of the great feast, the Wampanoags returned home, and the Pilgrims returned to their daily work. Thus the Pilgrims celebrated their survival and their hope for abundance and good fortune in the coming year.

The Pilgrims did not have forks. They ate with spoons, knives, their fingers, and large napkins.

Did You Know?

Plates and drinking cups were often shared at the table.

Children served meals to their parents before sitting down to eat.

The largest meal of the day, called dinner or "noon-meat," was eaten at noon. Supper was a small meal eaten in the evening. Breakfast usually consisted of leftovers.

While the Pilgrims had a set eating schedule, the Wampanoags simply ate whenever they were hungry from pots of food that cooked all day long.