Leave the 21st century behind and immerse your family in American history for Thanksgiving weekend. We’ve rounded up three weekend destinations to get the family into the Thanksgiving spirit by eating, playing or celebrating the way our forefathers did.
From the shores of Massachusetts to a Colonial-era city in Virginia, here are three historic ways to experience a traditional Thanksgiving this holiday season.
Thanksgiving Day has been a long-standing tradition since its inception in the 1620s. This year go back in time and experience Thanksgiving as a pilgrim. There’s no better destination to experience the authentic spirit of Thanksgiving than where the tradition first began.
The ‘First Thanksgiving’ was hosted by the Pilgrims. Coastal Plymouth, Massachusetts is said to be where the Mayflower Pilgrims first came ashore, and is home to the iconic Plymouth Rock and replica of the Mayflower. Celebrate Thanksgiving where the first historic gathering happened by heading to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Here, you can truly experience history brought to life.
At Plimouth Plantation explore outdoor living exhibits in this living history museum. It recreates the original 17th century Plimouth village with costumed staff interpreting the Pilgrims’ daily lives, and a period Wampanoag homesite staffed with tribesmen. You can even enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner here, complete with roast turkey and all of the traditional New England trimmings – plus, Pilgrim role players and Native interpreters will greet you and talk about the 1621 feast that inspires today’s modern celebration.
On select days through the end of November, visitors can enjoy a Harvest Dinner with the Pilgrims—a family-style, sit-down meal of authentically prepared dishes, including steamed mussels, corn pudding, cabbage soup and roasted meats. During dinner, you will be entertained with centuries-old psalms and songs and with stories about the original feast.
In the town of Plymouth itself, an entire weekend of festivities takes place every year, with Pilgrims, soldiers, patriots and Native Americans all climbing out the pages of history books and onto the streets to bring stories of the founders to life. Friday night brings an illumination ceremony and a festival in the streets that includes a free concert, while Saturday features the historic parade, a chronological walk through the history of the nation with custom built floats, equestrian groups, fife and drum as well as renowned drum corps.
The town also offers a host of lodging, dining and entertainment options perfect for a three-day weekend.
In another one of America’s most historic towns, you can watch history come alive. Colonial Williamsburg is the largest living history museum in the world, recreating the city when Virginia was still an English colony. The historic village has 88 period buildings on 100 acres. Colonial Williamsburg, filled with candlelit taverns, old stores, authentic blacksmiths, and wig-making shops, is the ultimate immersion into America’s earliest days. Tour the Governor’s Palace, watch as horse and carriages ride down the main drag and encounter hundreds of costumed interpreters playing out the details of life in the early years of America in mini-dramas throughout town.
For the Thanksgiving holiday, Williamsburg offers a host of spectacular events. You can enjoy the annual tradition of bountiful feasts which features southern delicacies and a bounty of family favorites in a unique garden-to-table feast. Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center features a special three-day Thanksgiving event in which visitors can learn more about 17th and 18th century cuisine during “Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia.
Walk the streets of this former Virginia capital (1699 to 1780) while witnessing Colonial reenactments, portraying a life of centuries passed. Berkeley Plantation – claimed to be the site of America’s first Thanksgiving in 1619 – hosts a Thanksgiving festival accompanied by a traditional dinner; several restaurants, especially in Colonial Williamsburg, serve harvest dinners. Visitors can learn how old settlers and Native Americans gathered and prepared food at the Jamestown Settlement, or witness a turkey pardon at The Virginia Living Museum.
Head to Old Sturbridge Village, the Northeast’s largest living history museum, to celebrate Thanksgiving as they would have in pre-Civil War 1830s New England. The central Massachusetts’ museum is anchored by a quaint town commons and boasts 40 period buildings (many of them moved to the site from around the region.) There are also the Quaker Meeting House, a blacksmith shop, a potters’ shop, a water-powered grist mill, and a working farm where kids can interact with heritage-breed animals that trace their lineage back to the Colonial era.
The village is an immersive step-back-in time year-round but is particularly interesting during its Bounty: Thanksgiving celebration, a campus-wide look at period traditions of the holiday, including cuisine, etiquette and weddings.
Each weekend in November and on the big day itself, visitors can discover Native American food with special guests from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. Listen to a minister preach on the importance of the holiday at the historic meeting house and watch the locals partake in a round of after-dinner target shooting.
Of course, what is Thanksgiving without turkey and the trimmings? On Thanksgiving Day, treat yourself and your family to a traditional Thanksgiving feast at Bullard Tavern. Watch as costumed interpreters demonstrate cooking 19th-century style and enjoy special Thanksgiving programming throughout the day within the museum. Or try a Thanksgiving Buffet at Oliver Wight Tavern. Reservations are required.
Thanksgiving should be more than just a kickoff to the holiday season. The fourth Thursday in November is a truly American celebration and perhaps the best time to introduce your kids to some of America’s history.