An author and educator has written a book dispelling myths of the first Thanksgiving and urging Christians to learn how to study history and apply it to their faith.
Robert Tracy McKenzie teaches history at Wheaton College, and for years has focused on the truth of the first Thanksgiving.
“They didn't have ovens, we do know that,” he says. “They didn't have ovens in 1621; it would be several more years before that. Everything they had was boiled or roasted, so they didn't have any pumpkin pie. They weren't sure that sweet potatoes were healthy, so they didn't have yams. They didn't have sugar, so they probably didn't have cranberries without having any kind of sugar.”
According to the author, it's also likely they didn't have turkey because the wild birds were too fast to be shot. Their hunting guns were almost as big as the people were tall and were mounted on a tripod - and when game came in its path, Pilgrims would have to light a fuse for the gun to fire. Consequently, he says, they had lots of waterfowl, ducks and geese, and fish instead of turkey.
“They didn't use utensils very much; they had very few utensils,” he adds. “What they did have would have been spoons and knives. Forks were not widely used anywhere in the early 17th century. They were just beginning to be introduced, and common people thought of those as 'foppish pretensions.' Only snobs used forks, so you could imagine them sitting on the ground eating with their hands.”
Historians typically don't reflect on Thanksgiving's meaning and why it should matter to people today. McKenzie explores that in his book, The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History.