From Tabernacles to Turkeys

The First Thanksgiving, 1621

Credit:Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, c. 1912-1915

As we prepare to give thanks for all that God has given us, we’ve already taken a look at how President Washington’s original proclamation of the Thanksgiving holiday still inspires our nation’s oldest Jewish house of worship.

But did you know that the Bible and God’s chosen people perhaps inspired the pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving day feast?

In an old dispatch from our friends at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learn some of the connections between the biblical holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, and Thanksgiving as we know and celebrate it:

The Puritan Christians who landed on American shores seeking religious freedom were called pilgrims, in deference to their journey from England. Their dream of finding a place where they’d be free to worship as they pleased is a recurrent theme in Jewish history.

After their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the ancient Israelites lived for a week in temporary huts while giving thanks for a plentiful harvest. Likewise, during their first winter in Massachusetts, the pilgrims dwelled in makeshift huts, wigwams that the Indians helped them build.

While Sukkot remains a seven-day observance, the first Thanksgiving celebration continued for three days, a time frame more similar to the Jewish harvest festival than today’s Thanksgiving dinner, which often begins in late afternoon and ends several hours later.

With its pumpkin pies and cranberry garlands, Thanksgiving mirrors many of Sukkot’s customs and culinary themes…

Piping hot casseroles brimming with vegetables and fruit grace the American and Jewish harvest tables, as do pastries that are filled with apples, nuts, pumpkins and squash. Stuffing one food inside another as a metaphor for abundance is the hallmark of Sukkot cuisine…

Tags: History Holidays JTA Judaism Pilgrims Sukkot Thanksgiving

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