Traditional Thanksgiving Celebrations

Mary Gormandy White
Thanksgiving Feast

A Thanksgiving celebration is held to remember to be grateful for all of the wonderful things in life. Instead of focusing your party around turkey, football and parades, why not take historical cues to create your party theme?

Historically-Themed Thanksgiving Celebrations

Hosting a get-together with a Thanksgiving theme that gets into the historical spirit of the holiday is a great way to enjoy the day and create traditions and memories that every member of your family is sure to enjoy.

Traditional Meals

To create a more traditional Thanksgiving, consider some of these food ideas for your gathering:

Prepare Thanksgiving Meal Together
  • Prepare the meal together during the morning hours instead of bringing separately prepared dishes for a potluck.
  • Eat meats that were caught and killed by family members who are hunters and sportsmen.
  • Feature side dishes made from seasonal produce and fresh dairy products purchased locally.
  • Slow roast the turkey and other meats outdoors, with different people taking turns rotating the meat.
  • Serve the dinner family style across the table, instead of as plated courses.

Just incorporating a few ideas can make the meal more historical that past holiday dinners. Do what fits best into your entertaining style.

Traditional Activities

One of the few things known about the first Thanksgiving is that it was meant to be a celebration of the bountiful harvest. Therefore, planning activities that center upon farming, hunting and gardening are perfect for Thanksgiving Day activities. Consider the following activities:

Cornucopia
  • Fill a cornucopia with gourds and fruits
  • Make centerpieces of dried berries and flowers
  • Roast pumpkin seeds
  • Prepare bushes and garden plots for winter
  • Go hunting or fishing

Children can get into the spirit by reciting President Lincoln's 1863 proclamation making Thanksgiving a national holiday while wearing historical costumes. Have each child take a turn reading a paragraph as adults listen.

Giving Thanks

As the name of this holiday implies, it is a day of giving thanks. While you can go around the table and offer up your thanks in a large group, it may be more fun to craft a "Giving Thanks Tree." To make this tree, you need to start with a 3-4 foot potted tree that has lost its leaves. Here's how you can turn it into a special part of your Thanksgiving celebration:

  • Cut out paper leaves in fall colors by tracing cookie cutters onto construction paper.
  • Punch a hole in the top of the leaf and attach a string.
  • Ask everyone to write down their thanks for everything they are grateful for in their life and hang it on the tree.
  • When everyone is finished with the meal, read each leaf as you remove it from the tree.
  • Gather outside to plant the tree so it can continue to "give thanks" forever.

Traditional Decorations

As one can imagine, the first settlers and Native Americans likely did not have their homes decorated professionally. To maintain the tradition of your historically-themed Thanksgiving celebration, use only natural materials as party decorations.

Fall Decorations

Decorate using these items:

  • Dried leaves and berries
  • Branches and vines
  • Gourds, Indian corn, pumpkins
  • Turkey feathers
  • Carved wooden figurines

If the weather is nice, plan your celebration outdoors. You can also bring the outdoors in by moving your dining table out of the way and hosting the meal upon rustic wooden picnic tables and benches.

Thanksgiving Favors

Although favors were most likely not given at the first Thanksgiving, you can still hand them out at your celebration. Use natural or homemade items as your Thanksgiving party favors.

Consider giving everyone their own packet of pumpkin seeds along with a recipe for pumpkin bread or pumpkin pie. Fresh herbs and spices from a garden are also excellent favors that everyone will enjoy. Those with crafting skills can weave small baskets or fashion homemade apple cider scented candles to pass out as favors.

The First Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving is generally believed to have been celebrated by Mayflower survivors and members of the Indian tribe Wampanoag in the fall of 1621. Together, the groups celebrated the fruitful summer and bountiful harvest that had been gathered by feasting and rejoicing for three days.

Thanksgiving has always been a day to remember and honor everyone and everything that Americans are appreciative for in life. More information on the first Thanksgiving can be found at:

Ready to Plan Your Own Celebration?

A historically-themed Thanksgiving celebration is a great way to honor America's past. Use your knowledge of why Thanksgiving is celebrated to create a fun party that everyone will enjoy.

Traditional Thanksgiving Celebrations