No one is certain whether the Wampanoag and the colonists regularly sat together and shared their food, or if the three-day "thanksgiving" feast Mr. Winslow recorded for posterity was a one-time event.
In the culture of the Wampanoag Indians, who inhabited the area around Cape Cod, "thanksgiving" was an everyday activity.
"We as native people [traditionally] have thanksgivings as a daily, ongoing thing," says Linda Coombs, associate director of the Wampanoag program at Plimoth Plantation. "Every time anybody went hunting or fishing or picked a plant, they would offer a prayer or acknowledgment."
But for the 52 colonists - who had experienced a year of disease, hunger, and diminishing hopes - their bountiful harvest was cause for a special celebration to give thanks.
"Neither the English people nor the native people in 1621 knew they were having the first Thanksgiving," Ms. Coombs says. No one knew that the details would interest coming generations.
"We're not sure why Massasoit and the 90 men ended up coming to Plimoth," Coombs says. "There's an assumption that they were invited, but nowhere in the passage does it say they were. And the idea that they sat down and lived happily ever after is, well, untrue. The relationship between the English and the Wampanoag was very complex."
Since they did not speak the same language, the extent to which the colonists and Indians intermingled remains a mystery. But a few details of that first Thanksgiving are certain, says Kathleen Curtin, food historian at the Plimoth Plantation.
First, wild turkey was never mentioned in Winslow's account. It is probable that the large amounts of "fowl" brought back by four hunters were seasonal waterfowl such as duck or geese.