A scene from the first thanksgiving in 1612. The Wampanoags and the Pilgrims share the harvest. (Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Wikimedia Commons)
A scene from the first thanksgiving in 1612. The Wampanoags and the Pilgrims share the harvest.

Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving: Then vs. Now

SHS students reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving and their family’s traditions.

November 27, 2019

Culture and traditions change naturally over time. Thanksgiving is a prime example of this. In 1621, it is unlikely that the Pilgrims were playing Fortnite discreetly under the table to avoid the dreaded familial political debate. 

The first Thanksgiving was observed by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag in 1621, to celebrate the colony’s first harvest. The holiday went on for three days, filled with prayers thanking God for the end of drought and military success, and of course, the iconic feasts. Surprisingly to many, Thanksgiving was only celebrated intermittently until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared it a National Holiday. 

Waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash were on the menu for the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feast. It is unlikely this traditional array of foods would be found on any table today in Scarsdale. Here, one can find every variation of non-turkey substitute to satisfy the abundance of trendy diets and food restrictions. Why eat a turkey when you can eat tofurkey, turducken, abnormally large stalks of cauliflower-shaped like a turkey, or even heavy crudite? 

Some families also add their own twists to the meal. “We add foods that come from our own culture—for example, Brigadeiro,” said Heloisa Albuquerque ’23. Bringing their Brazilian roots to Thanksgiving is part of Albuquerque’s family traditions. 

For Tiber Benaissa ’21, Thanksgiving has always been a unique experience. Benaissa recently moved to Scarsdale from Dubai, where Thanksgiving is much different. On the fourth Thursday of every November in Dubai, Benaissa recalled standing out from his peers. “I celebrated [Thanksgiving] because I’ve got the American nationality and my parents were both born here,” explained Benaissa. Still, he recalls being the only person among his friends in Dubai to celebrate the tradition. This year marks a change. “This is going to be my first time celebrating with my extended family as well as with an actual Thanksgiving turkey,” commented Benaissa.

For most Scarsdale students, family is at the core of Thanksgiving’s purpose. “Thanksgiving is a time to come together with my extended family and have a reunion weekend,” said Henry Nova ’23. The holiday offers a chance to reconnect, stuff your face with turkey or some odd turkey substitute, and enjoy each other’s company. However, few actually take into consideration the history of the holiday and why it was celebrated in 1621. What was then a religious holiday is now secular, and what was a three-day celebration of harvest is now a day-long gathering of family and friends. Although Thanksgiving has lost acknowledgment of its roots, people continue to use the day as one to reflect on what they are grateful for and express thanks. Especially in a town like Scarsdale, it is crucial to take time to understand the privilege that we have, and to show gratitude that we are able to live comfortably.

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