December 22 - Forefathers Day in Plymouth

Posted on December 22, 2016


In America, almost everybody has an immigration story. Native Americans are descended from peoples that migrated to the Americas thousands and thousands of years ago - most are descended from peoples who came to the Americas during an ice age, more than 15,000 years ago. Those people don't have immigration stories, because they are completely lost in the mists of time.

But most Americans have immigration stories that only stretch back a century or two, or less, and many of us know a fair amount about who came to the U.S., from where, when. All four of my husband's grandparents came here from the Ukraine or Sicily, for example. 

Today is all about learning about and honoring your heritage -- your ancestors. "Forefathers" is an unfortunate word, because it seems to refer only to the men -- but we all know that we wouldn't be here if there weren't "foremothers" as well!

But the main main reason for today is to celebrate one of the longest-ago migrations to the New World:

Almost 400 years ago, the Mayflower arrived in New England carrying people we now call the Pilgrims. 

They'd set sail from Plymouth, England ("Old" England), so when they arrived on December 21, 1620, they gave their landing spot the name Plymouth Rock. 



Many people who have an ancestor who was aboard the Mayflower know about that ancestor -- of course, most of us aren't related to any of the Pilgrims! -- because the knowledge of those men and women has been carefully taught from generation to generation. 

Forefathers Day was started way back in 1769, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Even then more than a century had passed since the landing of the Mayflower, and the people who gathered together for a feast were celebrating their great-great-grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers.

I bet you're thinking, "Wait! I thought Thanksgiving was supposed to honor the Pilgrims with a feast??!"

Forefathers Day got its start way before Thanksgiving was an official, nation-wide holiday. For more than 200 years, individual colonies and then states would declare days of thanksgiving and some sort of harvest-honoring meal, often referring back to a harvest meal the Pilgrims shared with Native Americans almost a year after they landed, in the fall of 1621. The dates for all of these Thanksgiving feasts varied widely according to local harvests. Forefathers Day was celebrated in Plymouth on the same day -- December 22 -- celebrating the landing of the Pilgrims rather than their first harvest -- and even after Thanksgiving became an official holiday on the third Thursday in November, descendants of the Pilgrims continued the Forefathers Day tradition.

By the way, did you notice that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on December 21 and yet Forefathers Day, celebrating that landing, was on December 22? Apparently that was a problem of switching calendars; the Gregorian calendar necessitating the re-dating of every occasion, and someone made a mistake when figuring out the new date for this particular occasion. The result is, a lot of people say that Forefathers Day is on December 21 rather than December 22, even though the first such celebration and more than a century's worth of celebrations were held on the 22nd. SO confusing!




These days, the Mayflower Society dinner party still includes eating succotash, which is a stew made with vegetables, usually including corn and beans of some sort -- especially lima beans. Some people dress up their succotash with a pie-crust top or top the vegetable stew with slices of chicken or turkey. The Ancestors in Aprons website contains an old-school recipe for succotash that includes a lot of corned beef and salt pork and potatoes, plus navy beans and hominy (which is a kind of corn).

By the way, if you think today is way too close to Christmas to be holding a giant feast, remember that the Pilgrims didn't celebrate Christmas! 


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