During the period from 1619 to 1620, the Pilgrims residing in Plymouth, Massachusetts experienced severe food shortages. It was brought about by poor weather and unstable food supplies. To overcome the problem they turned to the Native Americans. The Indians taught the Pilgrims how to farm.
A Gift from the Native Americans
The famine ended in 1621. To show their gratitude the Pilgrims held a feast in 1621. The Native Americans were invited. They brought along with them some turkey. Based on this tradition, the reason why we eat turkey at Thanksgiving stemmed from the gifts given by the Native Americans.
Some researchers believe that turkey was chosen for purely economical and practical reasons. They were big enough to feed scores of people. For farmers it meant huge savings. Instead of killing scores of chickens, they only need to cook a few turkeys and it would be enough.
It’s true that there were other animals kept in farms, but they couldn’t be killed off just for food. Cow meat was delicious, but they were used for milk and were too costly to just kill off. Serving them up for meals wasn’t practical because they had too many uses.
The reason why we eat turkey at Thanksgiving is that other animals weren’t available or had to be used. Hens were prized because of their eggs which farmers sold. Rooster was available but it was difficult to cook. Some report eating venison at dinner but it was impractical. Not only did you have to cook, but you had to hunt for them too. Hunting for a holiday meal was just too cumbersome.
A British Tradition
Several historians opined that the practice was imported from Britain. During royal occasions, turkey was the centerpiece of the feast. This has been used to explain why turkey was favored instead of ham or pork.
The latter two were widely available but didn’t become popular. If turkey was imported from Britain, it would explain why we eat turkey at Thanksgiving.
Perfect for the Fall
Researchers suggest it was chosen because of seasonal considerations. If the creatures were born in the spring, it could reach up to 10 lbs by the fall. The months in between the creature would spend fattening up. Economically speaking, it meant they were less costly than geese.
Whatever its origins, by 1863 the turkey had become the centerpiece of the feast. It should be noted that even before that time, eating the dish was very widespread.
With Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the traditional preparation was established. It included gravy and stuffing. Although with some variation, it’s still the most popular of serving the dish today.
The reasons why we eat turkey at Thanksgiving may be due to several factors. But whatever the origin, it has come to symbolize the blessings of life.