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11 things you can do to have a Thanksgiving in the true spirit of the holiday.

This Thanksgiving, let your belly be full of love and gratitude ... and pie.

The first time a bunch of immigrants and locals got together in the U.S. to eat some home-cooked fowl, it was 1621.

And, according to some historians, it was more like a big, loose, last-minute festival than a fancy sit-down dinner.


This "First Fun Thanksgiving" image via Mike Licht/Flickr (based on original by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris).

They probably didn't even eat turkey! Mostly, they were just really happy to have enough food to eat because life in the new world was rough.

This year, to have a holiday that celebrates this gorgeous season, honors the food and history of our land, and feels full of love (instead of just plain full), here are some ideas to keep in mind:

First, forget the hype and reconnect with the real.

1. Make your understanding of the holiday as rich and studied as the menu.

Why? Because this holiday has a pretty special history! The very first recorded "Pilgrims and Indians" feast, for example, is a happy story, but later meals have a sad and gruesome meaning.

And do you even know that first tribe's name? It's the Wampanoag! Here's a great great summary with some startling information in it and links to learn even more.

And while you're at it, you can teach your kids a real-er story about our country.

This version, for example, is kid-oriented, brain-stimulating, and will make for some cool dinner conversation with the whole family. And you can freak them out with the picture of eel pie.

2. Get your 1621 vibe on.

Think about what that first harvest festival was like. Nathaniel Philbrick points out that to all the pilgrims from Great Britain, where fall is kind of ho-hum, the New England trees turning color would have been shocking and awesome.

Hear his take on the history, in parts 1 and 2. What kind of autumnal appreciating can you do where you are?

3. Try an actual recipe from a Native American tribe.

Slow Food USA offers this neat interactive map and collection of recipes, many of them from Native tribes, organized by region.

Photos from SlowFood USA, used with permission.

When you serve your Wampanoag stewed pompion, add some dinnertime trivia, courtesy of Smithsonian: The first Thanksgiving couldn't have had pumpkin pie as we know it, because they didn't have butter or wheat to make pie crust.

Speaking of planning that menu...

4. Up your veggie-to-meat ratio!

Image by Rebecca Siegel/Flickr.

Whether you're having bacon on your Brussels sprouts or not, you can shop for food that's been raised in a way that cares for the earth. What we eat affects the climate, and raising animals can be tough on a planet! Green things up with gosh-I'm-so-thanksgivingful- for-the-bounty-of-the-earth gusto.

5. Make your turkey a marvel.

For example, you can use this search tool to find a grocery store near you that'll offer Certified Humane poultry. Or get Pilgrim-y and get a heritage turkey. (Again, makes for great table conversation.) Get the whole low-down on turkeys from this this guide.

6. Keep it local.

This is seriously the holiday to support farmers in the region where you live — it's a holiday all about their harvest! See if your grocery store has a "local" section, or find a nearby farmers market. Learn more about where our food's coming from and how to have a 100-Mile Thanksgiving from these rad stats and infographics.

That's a long trip for a little broccoli stalk! Infographic by Sustainable America, used with permission.

7. If it came outta the earth, put it back in!

In other words, compost your potato peels. You know what the Pilgrims always said? "Waste not, want not." Well I'm not sure they said it, but I bet they lived it. Bag up all your veggie trimmings and stems and leaves — and stuff that fell on the ground — as you go, stick it in your freezer, and then take it to a compost collection center near you. I used to promise myself I'd make soup stock with all that stuff, but I'm so tired of cooking after Thanksgiving that I prefer composting the food waste. It helps me feel like I'm respecting the food I'm making not to send any of it into a landfill.

8. Drink well! How about some apple cider from local apples? Or wine grown ecologically?

For guaranteed holiday cheer, my recipe is apple cider from the farmers market, heated on the stove with a cinnamon stick and spiked with bourbon. But if wine's your thing, check out the free guide you can get from Slow Wine.

Finally, make the day after Thanksgiving more wonderful, too.

9. Make better use of that Friday.

Celebrate Buy Nothing Day by … buying nothing. Suggested alternatives to violent stampeding at the mall? A lo-o-o-o-ng walk, catching up on a stack of magazines, a game of soccer or touch football, making an overdue phone call, or finally attempting to make that soup stock with your leftovers.

10. Spend that time with people, places, or things that make you feel grateful.

Need inspiration? Check out the 365 Grateful project.

Just one example of gratitude from 365 Grateful's Facebook page. Photo used with permission.

11. Really commit to your community.

Lots of us suddenly remember how lucky we are, and want to give back by volunteering on Thanksgiving, but places need help year-round. (In fact, many say they can't even offer volunteer shifts to all the people who want to come during the holidays.) Commit to sowing the seeds of gratitude and community throughout the year, with a group you feel as warm and gooey as sweet potatoes about.

And finally, remember to say thanks — to the person cooking dinner or bringing over a side dish, to the grocery clerk, to your ride home, and to whomever you're thankful for now and throughout the year.

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