Those who think history lessons are invariably dry and unappetizing may find themselves eating their words -- and more -- at Plimoth Plantation's annual Harvest Dinner in Plymouth, Mass.
To be sure, none of the 50 or so guests arises from the two-hour 17th century feast, known colloquially as a "groaning board," unenlightened about what really happened at the so-called "first Thanksgiving" in the fall of 1621. Neither do they arise the least bit hungry.
The parade of historically accurate dishes, served family style by period-costumed waiters, is nothing less than prodigious: 11 dishes in all, including "mussels seeth'd in parsley and beer" (my wife's favorite), "stewed pompion" (pumpkin), "a chine of pork roast'd" and a "pudding of native corn" (our twin daughters' favorite).
Be forewarned: It's a truly hands-on experience -- pilgrims didn't use forks, or napkins, so the accepted practice is to wipe your fingers and face directly on the tablecloth. It's a custom to which our two girls adapted with dismaying quickness and delight during their first Harvest Dinner at age 8. And as if that wasn't entertaining enough, between courses we were regaled with hymns, communal rounds and some jovial 17th century wordplay.
The intellectual take-away from Harvest Dinner is that what happened here 390 years ago had been a traditional English celebration of the gathering of that first summer's crops -- not a true thanksgiving, which in the Pilgrim vocabulary was a day of prayer and fasting in appreciation of some divine deliverance, such as the end of a drought.
While you're there
Admission to a Harvest Dinner includes admission to other attractions at Plimoth (the original spelling) Plantation -- namely the 1627 English Village, Wampanoag Homesite and Mayflower II.
At the visitors center's "Thanksgiving: Memory, Myth, and Meaning" exhibit, you can learn how the pilgrims' harvest celebration had gradually morphed into the one uniquely American holiday.
We spent four hours taking in the sights, sounds and even smells of the re-created Pilgrim village, stunningly racked on a hillside overlooking Cape Cod Bay, and the Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the original vessel that's berthed near the legendary rock in Plymouth Harbor.
Both are populated by costumed role players. But these have all assumed the name and persona of an historical pilgrim, and engage us in period dialogue about their political and religious beliefs, and the trials and tribulations they have encountered in the New World.
Still, they have much to be thankful for, and they look forward to celebrating it at their next harvest dinner. Not wishing to spoil it for them, we refrain from telling them exactly what will be on the menu.
IF YOU GO
137 Warren Ave., Plymouth, Mass.
WHEN Harvest Dinner offered 5:30 p.m. Nov. 5, 12, 19-20, 23 and 25-26. Reservations required.
ADMISSION $60.95 ($41.95 ages 12 and younger) includes two-day pass to plantation and the Mayflower II.