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CHIPS Articles: US Navy Thanksgiving — A Sampling of Holiday Menus and Celebrations through the years

US Navy Thanksgiving — A Sampling of Holiday Menus and Celebrations through the years
By CHIPS Magazine - November 21, 2018
Whether for Sailors at sea or on shore, the U.S. Navy has observed Thanksgiving since it became an official American holiday.

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 been left 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 Navy History and Heritage Command.

In 1905, the USS Raleigh’s Thanksgiving menu listed creamed asparagus bouillon; celery; creamed potatoes, young onions a la hollandaise, steamed cabbage and white sauce; oyster dressing; cranberry sauce; assorted nuts; and — of course — roast turkey.

Last year NHHC 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. This year, Culinary Specialists across the globe are getting ready for the annual feast with 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. Yum!

NAVSUP reported there are about 330,000 Navy active duty personnel and 3,100 mobilized Reservists serving in the U.S. Navy – including about 8,600 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.

In 1905, pumpkin pie, mince pie, and fruit cake topped off the holiday meal. This year, the Navy estimates 7,800 assorted pies, including pumpkin and apple, will be available.

“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 NAVSUP Navy Food Service Director Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Wodele. “Nothing impacts Sailors on a day-to-day basis more than the food CSs prepare for them.”

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.

And Happy Thanksgiving from CHIPS Magazine!

History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in both tradition and folklore, 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. But it’s safe to say there are many versions of the “First Thanksgiving.” Most Americans probably associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1621. Less well-known outside Virginia is the fact 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 thirty-seven 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 quite 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 has 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 on the continent.

The American tradition of holding an occasional Thanksgiving holiday and the Plymouth colony’s 1621 event were first associated 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 and (founder and longtime governor of the Plymouth Colony) 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, though their exploring and eventual settling at Plymouth, to their relations with the surrounding Indians, up to the first Thanksgiving and the arrival of the ship Fortune, according to a Library of Congress report.

Since Americans had been celebrating regional and local Thanksgivings since before 1621, since the early national Thanksgivings, including Lincoln’s, were proclaimed without any reference to or knowledge of the events of 1621, and 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, according to the Library of Congress.

For many of us, thinking about Thanksgiving makes us think of the “First Thanksgiving” between the Indians and Pilgrims in 1621. There are many versions of this story, but many of us remember the one we learned in school. The colonists celebrated the day in the spirit of traditional English harvest festivals, as proclaimed by Governor William Bradford. The local Wampanoag Indians were invited to take part in the celebration, as well.

According to, this first Thanksgiving also marked the signing of a treaty between the Pilgrims and the Indians. It was a large feast that served enough food to feed everyone for weeks. On the table was foul such as geese, turkey, swans and duck. There were also many dishes of meat, including venison, 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 beginning friendship between the two groups during National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. 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 Lincoln, the date that Thanksgiving was observed 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 on 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 from 1942, according to Library of Congress records.

Today, Thanksgiving still inspires gathering and sharing a meal with family and friends; turkey still tops off the menu, whether roasted, 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. There are parades, community events and a tradition of recognizing 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 observation of Thanksgiving differs for each person. If you’re like me, you may include dishes of your ethnic heritage along with turkey for your Thanksgiving feast. When I was growing up, the aroma of turkey roasting comingled with the scent of homemade ravioli with a delicious meat-filled tomato sauce. Friends of mine, naturalized citizens from Vietnam, always serve their ethnic dishes to celebrate Thanksgiving, as well as the traditional favorites of turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. Funny enough, they don’t particularly like turkey, but they serve it because it’s an American Thanksgiving tradition.

- Sharon Anderson, CHIPS senior editor

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.
SAN DIEGO (Nov. 23, 2017) Culinary Specialists prepare turkey, shrimp, ham and prime rib for Thanksgiving aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). Boxer's culinary staff prepared a menu of more than 15 unique and traditional options for several hundred crewmembers, friends, and family that dined aboard the ship. Boxer is pierside in San Diego, Calif., undergoing a phased maintenance availability. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Matthew Jackson/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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