Monday, November 19, 2012

An American History of Thanksgiving

As a week full of family, friends, and food lurks around the corner, there is much commotion over the widely anticipated holiday of Thanksgiving. For those whom are unaware of why we celebrate Thanksgiving, feel free to read this brief history summarizing the historic day that triggered a holiday for feast, and giving thanks. The story is widely told that a group of Pilgrims landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the early 1620's where visited by a Native American called "Squanto" greeted them in English, teaching them how to cultivate crops, fish, and live off the land.

Although most Americans know the ending to be a bountiful feast, lasting days, with the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrim settlers, there is still a dark history with our arrival to America, and our historic encounters with Indian tribes. Before our Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Plantation, many of the Indians occupying the land had been previously sold in to slavery to Europeans. This is exactly how Squanto learned English! Contrary to Charlie Brown's (5:45) peaceful view on the first Thanksgiving, other English settlers sold Native American's into slavery, killed many in battle, and also brought over terrible plague that wiped out entire tribes. Richard Greener from the Huffington Post agrees that although Thanksgiving marks a historic treaty of peace, it also reminds us of the previous atrocities against Native Americans.

"This day is still remembered today, 373 years later. No, it's been long forgotten by white people, by European Christians. But it is still fresh in the mind of many Indians. A group calling themselves the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole's Hill for what they say is a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a stature of Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember the long gone Pequot. They do not call it Thanksgiving. There is no football game afterward."

The rest of the article can be found here. What do you all think about the true history of Thanksgiving?  Although this holiday of giving thanks is bittersweet, I find it interesting how we all as kids learn about the story of Thanksgiving as if it were a peaceful brotherhood between the Native Americans and European Settlers. Why do you suppose that teachers leave out the violent history of bloodshed and plague? Also please consider and comment your thoughts below to how America portrays these settlers. Happy Thanksgiving everybody. 


  1. I think that you raise a good point Noah. I think it is really interesting that the holiday that Americans learn about is entirely inconsistent with the original Thanksgiving. Every year I inevitably hear someone clamoring to return to an authentic holiday, but I have never seriously considered it until reading this. I think that America portrays the settlers as heroes for reason we discussed in class - everyone is the hero of their own story.

  2. Naturally, no teacher wants to teach kindergarten children about how terrible Americans are. They are trying to build a new generation of Americans that take pride in their country and want it to exist. This nice, simple story also shares many values that children learn at an early age: sharing, getting along with others, and learning.

  3. Solid post bud. I like the reference to the "dark side" of Thanksgiving, and it makes you think of how over time in history, we have seen the things Americans do not want to know about left out. In this case, most Americans see Thanksgiving isas a time to stuff our faces (with incredible food), give thanks to the things we love, and watch great football. I think as Americans, our patriotism can sometimes lead to ignorance, and this post and the past of Thanksgiving give me further evidence to believe in this American principle. Cheers.

  4. In that respect, Thanksgiving is like Columbus Day in that it could be interpreted as celebrating the conquest and genocide of Native American people. We ought to be able to learn about the real history of the holiday without whitewashing its origins while reconciling that history with our own bounty and being able to give thanks for our good fortunes. It would be interesting if Thanksgiving was observed as a national day of atonement. Food for thought on this day of national gluttony.