A Very Victorian Thanksgiving

All the Trimmings

Since President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, we’ve grown accustomed to the Thanksgiving dinner traditions that we all know and love. Most of us have grown up with the roasted turkey, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and stuffing (jury is still undecided on the cranberry sauce.) With many traditions originating in Victorian customs, how might have Thanksgiving looked like during Sarah Winchester’s time?

The turkey, for starters, has always served as a nod to the early pilgrims and settlers in the United States, who often relied on wild birds as their primary source of food. During the Victorian-era, however, Thanksgiving meals became a bit more complicated than what we know today.

Late 19th century Thanksgiving dinner menus contained few items that may be on our plates in 2019. Much of what Thanksgiving Day is now evolved from an area of the country that Sarah Winchester was familiar with – New England. Seafood was (and still is) aplenty on the East Coast of the United States, and shellfish like oysters became a Thanksgiving staple during the mid-late 1800’s.

The Argus and Patriot of Montpeiler, Vermont, highlights their idea of a modern Thanksgiving Dinner – published in 1895.

Non-traditional menu items on a Victorian dinner plate would have included oysters, mock turtle soup, boiled bass with cream sauce, oyster fritters with cranberry jelly, celery salad with mayonnaise, and fresh fruit. Are any of those in your Thanksgiving plans?


Victorian Thanksgiving Traditions

While some Victorian-era traditions have died out (see the Victorian hair-wreath at the Winchester Mystery House for example), some holiday customs continue to this day.

Victorians often held lavish feasts, typically for smaller and more intimate gatherings. It was common to decorate the table with the hosts finest plates and silverware, and was often when china or silver would appear.

Table and household decorations that we still use today originated in Victorian times. It was commonplace to see a house decorated with pumpkins, dried grass and autumn leaves, grains, and chrysanthemums. Many natural items were utilized to make the house feel like fall.

Whether or not you are making the roast turkey, or sticking with Victorian oyster fritters with cranberry jelly, the Winchester Mystery House would like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!