17th Century Thanksgiving

Mayflower

My girlfriend, Dawn, and I were feeling burned out. We met for coffee and started commiserating about our never-ending to-do lists. We had young families, demanding jobs, and tons of responsibilities. It was early October, and we recognized that soon, Halloween would be over. Then, it would be a mad rush to start the holidays. We both agreed that after a few years of hosting, the thought of all that holiday cooking was the last thing we felt like doing. I remembered that my brother and sister-in-law spent Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, one year with my nephews. They came back from the trip and raved about the living history experience.

I was a teacher at the time, with only a few short days to spend the break. I concluded that since Plymouth, Massachusetts, was the place where America’s Thanksgiving celebration began, it would be fun and educational for all of us. Dawn agreed, and our trip was set in motion. My kids were really excited to be traveling with Dawn’s family. She and her husband Alan had 11-year-old twin girls and a nine-year-old daughter. My twin girls were ten and loved spending time with them. We often got our two families together for day trips, but this would be a three-day vacation with another family! They were thrilled.

I did research. I found out that Plimouth Plantation was set-up as a living history experience. You could take a self-guided tour of the 17th Century English Village, Wampanoag Homesites, and then tour a full-scale replica of the Mayflower. The Mayflower was the ship that brought the pilgrims to Patuxet (Plymouth) in 1620. The Plantation also offered a Thanksgiving dinner with roast turkey and all the trimmings – New England style. I thought that would be fantastic, so I signed up for the meal and was able to secure an afternoon seating for our families on Thanksgiving Day.

That first day we arrived, we went to visit Plymouth Rock. The rock is the “supposed” landing point of the pilgrims, but there is some debate if that part of history is accurate. It is a memorial, though, so we went to see it. There was a white granite canopy erected to mark the place of the rock at the waterfront park, and it looked stately. Many years ago, the massive stone was moved to a different location. During the move, it broke, so only a fragment remained on the beach. When we got there, it was so cold outside that we gathered around the rock, looked at it for about five minutes, and remarked that we thought it would be bigger. Then we all laughed as we sprinted back to our cars to get warm. So much for that, I thought!

The hotel wasn’t fancy, but it was clean and offered an indoor swimming pool that had a water feature in the shape of the Mayflower. After dinner in one of the local restaurants, we spent our evening in the pool splashing around. We made it an early night as we had a long travel day.  We all agreed that our families needed to get up and get our day started early. We were all excited to spend Thanksgiving Day at the Plantation.

We arrived after breakfast and walked around the Wampanoag settlement. We went inside a bark-covered long house and observed how the women went about their chores, cooking over an open fire, and telling stories of their people. Our husbands chose to stay outside. They watched as a canoe was hollowed out by some of the men in the camp. The men used fire to burn the insides of long logs to create boats. Then, we walked through the Plantation, a grouping of houses that were reconstructed to resemble the first settlement. There we interacted with the Pilgrim actors who told tales of their terrible trip from England and their horrible first year in Massachusetts. We asked them questions about their daily life, and they never broke character to share their explanations. It was fascinating.

It took us about three hours to tour everything, and we were all getting hungry. We were ready to eat when it was time to be seated for our real “Thanksgiving” meal. The Pilgrims and Native Americans entered the room to engage with the guests. It seemed that it was going to be fun, but instead, we had to remain quiet to hear their monologues. The kids were really bored and started to fidget. The hunger was REAL. Finally, turkey arrived with gravy and various fixings. When we went to pass the platters, we noticed we had no knives or forks, only a spork to eat our meal. I guess the children were tired because they barely ate anything and started to complain about the food and the fact that we only had a spork to eat with. It was becoming an issue. I tasted everything and thought the turkey and gravy were decent, but the kids were not having any of it. They were upset that the food was “weird,” and they didn’t have their favorite sides. I looked at my husband and our friends. We agreed that the food was tasty, it was just the kids, they were whiny and tired. It was nothing but complaints, so we decided to duck out of Thanksgiving dinner.

At this point in the day, late afternoon on Thanksgiving, the only place left to eat was a take-out pizza place. We were lucky that they were open at all! We ordered three large pies and brought them back to the hotel, where we promptly ate our pizza in our adjoining hotel rooms. Then we spent the rest of the day swimming in the indoor pool. The kids were deliriously happy that they were done with all the history lessons and were able to scream and squeal in the water. They were not pleased about the fact that we had pizza for dinner on Thanksgiving, but it became one of the funny stories from that weekend. At least we all found the humor in it and had fun despite our lack of a proper Thanksgiving meal.

When you choose to travel on holiday with your kids, you have to be ready for some adjustments. When plans go south, you have to come up with a plan B, pretty quickly. I have to say that while it wasn’t the best trip we have taken, it wasn’t the worst either. I thoroughly enjoyed Plimouth Plantation. We learned a lot about the struggles of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people. They both had to survive the harsh conditions and share their land with each other. It was a difficult life. It made me think about all the reasons I had to be thankful and grateful. As we come to another Thanksgiving holiday, I reflect on that trip with a huge smile. It was memorable. To this day we laugh at the absurd events but remember them fondly.

I want to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. And, if you are away from home on this day, I hope you have safe travels, food to share, and lots to be thankful for.

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