The Pilgrims Before Plymouth- page 5 | Travel | Smithsonian
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Aerial view of the city of Leiden, Holland (© Picture Partners / Alamy)

The Pilgrims Before Plymouth

A tour of the Dutch city of Leiden yields new insights into a chapter of the Thanksgiving story not taught in schools

Leiden Siege Plaque

Leiden Siege Plaque
(John Hanc)
A plaque above the door of Leiden’s spectacular, block-long City Hall chronicles a significant event in its history, one that also offers a clue to an interesting question about the influence of Leiden on the Pilgrims. Was it here that they got the model for the Thanksgiving feast? Bangs thinks so, in part. Here’s why:

In 1574, in a climactic end to the 80-year war for Dutch independence, the starving city of Leiden triumphed after a long siege under Spanish forces. The annual Thanksgiving festival, held every October in commemoration, is an event the Pilgrims would have witnessed during their decade in Leiden. The festival lasted for days, starting with a prayer, followed by a meal and then militia exercises and festivities. When the Plymouth Pilgrims decided to hold Thanksgiving in 1621, Bangs thinks they looked, at least in part, to the Leiden festival. “They thought the Dutch had it right,” Bangs says. “The Pilgrims also found in Deuteronomy the description of how to hold a harvest thanksgiving,” he adds, “which included inviting all the “strangers” living within one’s boundaries. This would account for inviting the Indians.”

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