To be true ambassadors of Americana, your family may want to brush up a bit on Thanksgiving lore. Here are some notes from the American Heritage Book of Indians and the paperback Customs and Fashions in Old New England by Alice Morse Earle (available at the Museum of American History bookstore):
* It is historically accurate to talk of the "Pilgrim Fathers." While the Plymouth Colony numbered 55 men in the fall of 1621, records indicate only four women, plus a handful of children and servingmaids. The Algonquin Indian Chief Massasoit attended the Thanksgiving festivities with 90 braves.
* Squanto, the Indian who first contacted the colonists and taught them how to plant corn, spoke to them in English. History identifies him as Tasquantum, who had been captured by traders and taken to England in 1616.
* The Indian settlements along the Massachusetts coast had been decimated by a plague between 1616 and 1621. The colonists found cleared land, but virtually no local inhabitants.
* The Pilgrims at Plymouth should not be confused with the Puritans who began arriving a short time later at Boston. The Pilgrims were Separatists who wanted to leave the Church of England and left English soil to do so. The Puritans were a part of the Anglican Church, but wanted to "purify" it. Many came because economic changes were forcing them off the large estates at home.
* Both groups were stern moralists who frowned on such merriments as the Christmas celebrations of Olde England. When they founded their New England they emphasized a more sober Thanksgiving, and declared such holidays as the occasion arose.
* Thursdays were chosen as days of Thanksgiving throughout the colonial period in New England because that was the day the settlers had already set aside for a mid-week pick-me-up from the pulpit.
* Countless school pageants to the contrary, the Pilgrims did not wear black. The more common suit was buff breeches, red waistcoats and colored mandilions.
* Although Massasoit's Redskins were a long way from the football field, they introduced the Englishmen to the rituals of the athletic contest while the women tended the cooking. The original Redskins preferred contests in running, jumping, and throwing, while the Englishmen favored a team sport called spool ball.
* The Thanksgiving food was set out on "boards," which may even have groaned under the load. The boards were set on trestles and probably covered with "board-cloths," as listed in early inventories. Dinner partners shared wooden trenchers carved from poplar trees, managed their food with spoons and knives and drank out of noggins, small mugs about the size in which eggnog is now served.