Climate and the History of Thanksgiving

By WeatherBug Meteorologists

The history of Thanksgiving is directly intertwined with weather and climate. What is often considered the first Thanksgiving feast was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1621. The feast was seen as a way to give thanks for the bountiful harvest the Pilgrims had been blessed with and was shared with the neighboring Wampanoag Indians.

Credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr

Credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr

However, the Pilgrims were not the first to have a ceremony to give thanks for a harvest. The Algonkian tribes from the Great Lakes to New England held six thanksgiving festivals during the year:

  • Maple dance – gave thanks to the creator for the maple tree and its syrup. Took place when weather was warm enough for sap to run in maple trees, usually February – March.
  • Planting feast – blessing for the seeds.
  • Strawberry festival – celebrated first fruits of the season.
  • Green corn festival – took place in summer.
  • Frost festival – after Indian summer and first frost.
  • Harvest festival – late fall.

To this day, most of the typical Thanksgiving foods are late fall crops typical of a New England harvest. These include cranberries, sweet potatoes and sometimes the “three sisters” – corn, winter squash, and lima beans.

Credit: Bruce Foster via Flickr

Credit: Bruce Foster via Flickr

Cranberries require very particular growing conditions, which are typically found in bogs. Southeast Massachusetts, where Plymouth is located, has many such bogs, which have a rare combination of sandy soil, a favorable climate and underlying geological conditions that maintain an adequate water supply.

When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, they found they could not grow cash crops like tobacco and sugar because of the rocky soil and harsh climate.

Credit: guzzphoto via Flickr

Credit: guzzphoto via Flickr

The Pilgrims did bring with them seeds from England, including corn. However, these did not reproduce well in New England. On nearby Cape Cod, they found yellow, red, and blue corn from Native Americans in 1621. With the help of Squanto and other Native Americans, the Pilgrims acquired the knowledge needed to grow corn in New England’s unique climate.

Get more facts about Thanksgiving!

 

Happy Thanksgiving! Know Before™.

The WeatherBug – Earth Networks Team

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