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CHIPS Articles: A Recipe for Success — U.S. Navy Celebrates Thanksgiving

A Recipe for Success — U.S. Navy Celebrates Thanksgiving
By CHIPS Magazine - November 25, 2020
The U.S. Navy has observed Thanksgiving since it became an American holiday many years ago. As you would expect, menu items have changed through the years reflecting modern food tastes and healthy living choices. For example, it’s a safe bet that “Mayonnaise Salad” (served on battleship Arizona in 1917) and “Baked Spiced Spam à la Capitaine de Vaisseau” (on cruiser Augusta in 1942), will not be served this year and post-dinner cigars and cigarettes have also gone by the wayside, while roast turkey, baked ham, and pumpkin pie have been the anchors of nearly every Thanksgiving feast at sea or on shore to the present day,” according to Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC).

This year with the pandemic affecting the traditional Thanksgiving holiday as a time to gather with friends and family, it is good to think that many of its traditions will go on, although on a smaller scale. At the same time, the U.S. Navy still has many thousands of holiday meals to prepare.

There’s a recipe for success when creating a holiday meal designed to serve anywhere from 200 to 5,000, from putting together a mouth-watering menu to making sure the right food is ordered, cooked properly, and ready to serve when the galley doors and mess decks open. Thanksgiving Day starts early for culinary specialists across the Navy, who take great pride in their cooking and baking skills. Their goal is to recreate the same holiday meals, tastes and aromas reminiscent of a Thanksgiving spent at home.

As of October 2020, there are 344,206 active duty personnel and 4,539 mobilized Reservists serving in the U.S. Navy — including culinary specialists who receive extensive training in culinary arts, hotel management and other areas within the hospitality industry. CSs provide food service catering and hospitality services for admirals, senior government executives, and within the White House Mess for the President of the United States. This rating is responsible for all aspects of dining: shipboard mess decks and shore duty living areas.

While large group gatherings were the norm for Sailors and Marines celebrating Thanksgiving, this year, that setup will likely look more like grab-and-go style takeout for some, as well as other dining modifications, to protect the health of service members. However, there will be no skimping on all the fixings of a holiday meal.

“CSs feed, on average, more than 88 million wholesome and nutritious meals per year, ensuring the Navy's fighting forces operate at peak performance and are ready to respond to threats worldwide,” said a NAVSUP official in 2017. “Nothing impacts Sailors on a day-to-day basis more than the food CSs prepare for them.”

For Thanksgiving dinner, culinary specialists across the globe typically prepare an estimated 112,000 pounds of roast turkey, 21,000 pounds of stuffing, 27,100 pounds of mashed potatoes, 18,500 pounds of sweet potatoes, 5,400 pounds of cranberry sauce, and 2,300 gallons of gravy.

This month, Naval History and Heritage Command published select Navy Thanksgiving menus that span the first half of the 20th century and it’s fun to see how menu items have evolved. But for more than 100 years, the Navy has included roast turkey in its Thanksgiving menu, according to the Naval Supply Systems Command.

Bon Appétit U.S. Navy!

Click here to see the complete NHHC collection of U.S. Navy Thanksgiving menus.

To learn more about U.S. Navy history, please go to the Naval History and Heritage Command website: or visit the NHHC blog: The Sextant.

Happy Thanksgiving from CHIPS Magazine!

Brief History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in both tradition and folklore, often evoking solemn images of the prim, stiff-collared Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s and carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England.

Through the years many versions of the “First Thanksgiving” have been recorded. Most Americans probably associate Thanksgiving with the arrival of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1621. Less well-known outside Virginia, is that more than a year earlier, a hardy band of Englishmen landed at Berkeley Hundred on the James River and held the real first Thanksgiving. Captain John Woodlief and 37 men sailed from Bristol, England, on the ship Margaret and reached Berkeley Hundred nearly three months later in December 1619, according to the Virginia Historical Society.

Each year, as the season approaches, skeptics dispute the metaphors of the Plymouth feast. Often they are accurate, and generally, it’s a useful reminder to guard against mythologizing American history and whitewashing the relationships between Europeans and American Indians, according to a Library of Congress report.

Today’s Thanksgiving holiday rituals have roots in a number of celebrations that occurred centuries ago in different regions of North America. Native communities had regularly given thanks for nature’s gifts for centuries before the arrival of Europeans, according to the Library of Congress.

The American tradition of holding an occasional Thanksgiving holiday and the Plymouth colony’s 1621 event were first recognized in the 1840s and 1850s, when the story of the colonists became generally known to Americans with the publication of Mourt’s Relation and Of Plymouth Plantation, which contain Edward Winslow’s (founder and longtime governor of the Plymouth Colony) and William Bradford’s respective accounts of the autumn of 1621. Written between November 1620 and November 1621, it describes in detail what happened from the landing of the Pilgrims at Cape Cod, through their exploring and eventual settling at Plymouth, to their relations with the local Indians, and up to the first Thanksgiving and the arrival of the ship Fortune, according to Library of Congress reports.

Early Americans had been celebrating regional and local Thanksgiving feasts since before 1621 — without any reference to or knowledge of the events of 1621, according to the Library of Congress. Since the 1621 event in Plymouth was not itself a Thanksgiving, it’s fair to say that modern Thanksgiving was in no sense derived from the 1621 feast, although many people remain inspired by the Plymouth story.

For many, thinking about Thanksgiving evokes the images of 1621. There are many versions of this story, but the one we learned in school is often the one most memorialized. The colonists celebrated the day in the spirit of traditional English harvest festivals, as proclaimed by Governor William Bradford, and the local Wampanoag Indians were invited to take part in the celebration.

According to, this first Thanksgiving also marked the signing of a treaty between the Pilgrims and the Indians. It was a great feast that served enough food to feed everyone for weeks. Local game, such as geese, turkey, swans and duck, was served. There were also many dishes of meat, including venison, and vegetables and grains provided by both the Indians and the Pilgrims. Everyone enjoyed the peaceful fellowship and plentiful meal. According to several accounts, the English settlers would not have survived the harsh New England winter without the help of the Indians who taught them how to fish and hunt.

Although some 50 years later their relationship would deteriorate, it’s fitting to hark back to this budding friendship. For many, “Thanksgiving will always be remembered as a time when the Native American Indians and Pilgrims sat at a long table and ate together, sharing everything they had with one another,” according to

Through the Years

Thanksgiving in the United States has been observed on various dates throughout history. From the time of the Founding Fathers until the time of President Lincoln, the date varied from state to state.

According to Library of Congress archives, several historical dates stand out as Thanksgiving celebrations evolved through the years:

-- A proclamation by the General Court held at Boston on October 2, 1678, declaring November 21, 1678, to be a day of fasting and prayer.

-- A proclamation by the Governor of Connecticut appointing Wednesday, November 8, 1721, as a day of “publick thanksgiving” to be observed throughout the colony.

-- General Orders, issued by George Washington on November 30, 1777, setting aside December 18 for “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise.” Following this, the Continental Congress made a proclamation October 11, 1782, recommending the observation of a day of public thanksgiving, and Washington made another proclamation as president on October 3, 1789, proclaiming November 26 of that year to be a day of national thanksgiving and prayer after he received Congressional requests for such a decree.

On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation inviting American citizens to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving.” President Theodore Roosevelt signed a Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1902.

The Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday was established in 1941 following the passage of a joint resolution, H.J. Res. 41, by the House of Representatives on October 6, 1941, declaring the “last Thursday in November a legal holiday.” The Senate then passed an amendment “making the fourth Thursday in November a legal holiday.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 6, 1941, with the law taking effect in 1942, according to Library of Congress records.

Today, Thanksgiving still inspires gathering and sharing a meal with family, friends, and those who otherwise may be alone. Turkey still tops off the menu, whether roasted, smoked, baked or fried. Some 90 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. For some, watching football is the highlight of the day, while others look forward to the kick off of the holiday shopping season. Although the pandemic has curtailed many of these events, typically, there are parades, community events and a tradition of recognizing the sacrifice of U.S. troops serving in remote locations far from home.

Volunteering has become a common Thanksgiving Day activity. Volunteers serve free meals to the homeless and less fortunate and communities hold food drives and fill local pantries, shelters and regional foodbanks.

With people from so many different cultures living across the nation, the observance of Thanksgiving differs for each person. The aroma of turkey roasting may be comingled with the aromas of traditional Latino, Asian, Creole, African or Middle Eastern dishes, for example.

To learn more about Thanksgiving, go to the Library of Congress website.

TAGS: InfoSharing, KM
Head table with guests at the Thanksgiving dinner with the First Regiment, U.S. Naval Training Camp, Charleston, South Carolina, c. 1917 (NH116412).
Cover - Thanksgiving Dinner Menu, U.S.S. Case, Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pa., 1929. USS Case (DD-370), 1929. As was typical during the first decades of the 20th century, "oyster dressing," a sauce that included the juice of shelled oysters, was a set component of the holiday menu.
Menu - Thanksgiving Dinner Menu, U.S.S. Case, Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pa., 1929.
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (Nov. 28, 2019) Camp Lemonnier’s Command Master Chief Bruce Forrester serves Thanksgiving dinner to forward-deployed service members and base personnel at Camp Lemonnier’s Dorie Miller Galley, Nov. 28, 2019. Camp Lemonnier is an operational installation that enables the U.S., allied, and partner nation forces to be where and when they are needed to ensure security in Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Orlando Quintero/Released)
President Theodore Roosevelt signed a Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1902. Library of Congress
The first Thanksgiving 1621 – image created c1932. Digital ID: (color film copy transparency) cph 3g04961 Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-4961 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-15195 (b&w film copy neg.) Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
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