PLAIN CITY -- Tuesday brought the First Thanksgiving to Plain City Elementary School, but it was only the first since last November.
The school has been hosting annual celebrations for more than four decades.
"A lot of our students parents' remember the First Thanksgivings from when they were in elementary school," said Steve Gertsch, a third-grade teacher who has been part of at least 41 First Thanksgivings. "The first kids I taught are 51 now. Nobody remembers what was on page 179 of their grade math book, but they remember First Thanksgiving and what they learned at Plain City Elementary School."
The 750 students, many dressed in costumes they made to represent pilgrims, settlers or American Indians, headed to the north playground for a round of hot potato, a traditional game in which the person holding the potato when the music stops is eliminated from the circle.
Next to the south parking lot, a teepee stood tall, and teachers took pictures of their students crowding inside. In the preschool, students made themselves American Indian vests out of paper grocery bags, then did robot dances until the teacher informed the kids they weren't supposed to be robots.
In the lunch room, Ogden Nature Center employee Bryce King regaled students with facts about bald eagles, all under the eagle eye of Destetay, a feathered Ogden Nature Center resident. Outside, students lined up for a hay ride, then had scones and jam when they returned.
And Gertsch, assisted by fourth-grade teacher Shelly Van Meeteren, told class after class how American Indians trapped animals and tanned their hides to make clothing.
"They learn so much about Native Americans and where we came," said Principal Karla Porter. "They gain a great appreciation for this country and the sacrifices made. The First Thanksgiving makes learning more fun. It's really exciting, and it's fun to hear parents and children talk about it with the same enthusiasm.
Brinley Ferrin, 10, dressed in street clothes, but attached a small sign to her shirt declaring herself a "modern day pilgrim."
"I don't like wearing costumes, but I do like First Thanksgiving," she said. "It's fun to get a lot of new experiences and do a lot of new things."
Brinley won a recent spelling bee (with the word "legislature"), and her prize was a frozen turkey.
"But I'm going to my grandmother's for Thanksgiving, so I will have to eat it later."
Porter Iverson, 11, said he enjoyed learning about the pilgrims.
"I learned they had turkey instead of just fish," Porter said. "I learned about how they came to America, and how the Indians helped them, and how they made it possible for us to have the things we have today, like schools."
Fifth-grade teacher Tina Simonsen organized the First Thanksgiving with the help of the school secretary, Sue Holmes.
"It's quite a bit of work, and we are already preparing for next year," Simonsen said. "But it's always worth it. It brings a whole new meaning to Thanksgiving. The kids' excitement is what makes it so fun."
Things have changed some since the early days, Gertsch said.
"Before all the rules, we used to call the Fish and Game Department, for animals that were killed illegally, and they used to bring in a whole deer," he said. "My sixth-graders would hang them up in a tree across from the old school, and they'd skin them, cut them into quarters and roast them. We used to send out a letter asking for wild game, and people would send in buffalo, deer and elk, and we'd cook it on grills and open fires. We even roasted turkeys on a spit, and the kids would take turns rotating them. Now a mom can't send in a homemade birthday treat unless she has a food handlers permit."
But even without on-site butchering, Gertsch said First Thanksgiving activities make a lasting impression on the students of today:
"When you show them things, the clothing and how the Indians and the pilgrims ate, the tools and weapons they used, it's a pretty big contrast to how we live in this day of technology and ease."