Many think of the first Thanksgiving as that day in 1621 when pilgrims and Native Americans sat down to a big spread in Plymouth, Mass., but harvests were celebrated on Long Island long before that - and the Europeans weren't invited.
Smoked meat, fish and corn dishes were part of pre-Colonial Native American harvest celebrations, says Gary Haglich, site director at Garvies Point Museum & Preserve - and popcorn was "a big thing" at these meals. Traditional Native American harvest dishes will be prepared in demonstrations at Garvies Point's Native American Thanksgiving Feast. You can taste food that would have been served, such as corn soup.
Although George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving in 1789 to honor the adoption of the Constitution, the modern holiday took shape in 1863, after Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a "national day of thanksgiving."
The Civil War-era Thanksgiving is quite similar to the Thanksgiving we think of today, says Long Island historian Harrison Hunt of Port Washington.
A mid-19th century table would have groaned with many of the items we enjoy. There was turkey, of course, although the birds were smaller, had more dark meat and - some say - more flavor than today's variety. Vegetable side dishes and pumpkin pie also were served.
One difference between then and now may please locavores.
Hunt says 19th century Thanksgivings featured "locally available produce - if something was out of season or out of stock, you didn't have it." And the birds were locally bred, many in Plainedge, then known as Turkeyville, he says.
Another major difference? "They hadn't yet invented the green bean casserole," Hunt quipped.
Here are three sites where you can get your fill of old-time Thanksgiving lore before sitting down to the big feast next week.
WHEN | WHERE: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Garvies Point Museum & Preserve, Glen Cove
INFO: 516-571-8010, garviespointmuseum.com
ADMISSION: $5 (younger than 5 free with adult admission)
Food displays and tasting (including popcorn) with demonstrations of Indian dancing, spear-throwing and fish-smoking.
ADMISSION: $12 ages 7-12 (parents must accompany children, but will not be charged admission).
INFO: 631-427-7045, x401, huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org (advance registration required).
An educational program with an emphasis on local Indian history. Guest speakers include local historian Rex Metcalf, who will display wampum beads, arrowheads, cooking implements and other artifacts found on Long Island. Huntington historian Al Sforza will discuss the daily life of Indians. Kids can play Indian games of chance and try crafts such as face-painting and clay work.
WHEN | WHERE: 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Nov. 27-28, Old Bethpage Village Restoration
ADMISSION: $10 ($7 ages 5-12)
INFO: 516-572-8401, www.nassaucountyny.gov
Costumed workers will demonstrate historical cooking methods using open hearths and beehive ovens to prepare turkey, pumpkin pies and squash side dishes (no tastings offered). Also, expect musket firing demos and live fiddle music.