The First Thanksgiving: What We Weren’t Taught in School.

A friend’s child recently brought me a construction paper turkey they made at school from their hand print.

As they began to tell me the story of the Mayflower and how the Pilgrims and Indians had a wonderful meal together…I started looking to the other adults for guidance.

Surely, I did not want to be the one to bust this child’s bubble, but as I looked at all the smiling faces listening to this dear child’s tale, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone was going to tell the real story of Thanksgiving—although, that tale wouldn’t be quite as cheerful.

After World War I, the fictitious story of the Puritan-Indian partnership took hold in elementary schools across American.

It would appear the tale of the 17th Century European Pilgrims and New England Indians sharing a celebratory meal actually seems to be less than 120 years old.

The story we have all heard from textbooks has embedded a wonderful vision of peace, love, grace, gratitude, and sharing. This is and was, of course, a complete fabrication invented for cultural propaganda.

The first Thanksgiving did occur in the year 1637, but it was nothing like the Thanksgiving we celebrate today.

On that day the Massachusetts Colony Governor, John Winthrop, proclaimed such a “Thanksgiving” to celebrate the safe return of a band of heavily armed hunters, all colonial volunteers. They had just returned from their journey to what is now Mystic, Connecticut where they massacred 700 Pequot Indians. Seven hundred—men, women and children—all murdered.

To this day, 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 and there is no football game afterward.

How then did our modern, festive Thanksgiving come to be?

It began with the greatest of misunderstandings, a true clash of cultural values and fundamental principles.

The Pilgrims in Plymouth had a hard time for the first couple of years. Once they reached the forests and fields of Massachusetts, they turned out to be incompetent hunters. As the Pilgrims were running low on food supplies, they instituted a series of religious observances to compensate for the shortage.

They called it a Day of Fasting. Without food it seemed like a good idea. From necessity, that single day became multiple days. As food supplies dwindled the Days of Fasting came in bunches. Each of these episodes was eventually and thankfully followed by a meal.

Appropriately enough, the Puritans credited God for this good fortune. They referred to the fact they were allowed to eat again as a “Thanksgiving.” And they wrote it down.

But make no mistake—this feast did not include turkey, corn, cranberries, stuffing, green bean casserole, or any of the other fixings we associate with Thanksgiving in this era. The Pilgrims were lucky to get a piece of fish and a potato. All things considered, it was a Thanksgiving feast by their standards.

Did the Pilgrims share their Thanksgiving meal with the local Native Americans, the Wampanoag and Pequot? No. That never happened. That is, until its inclusion in the “Thanksgiving Story” in 1890.

While I believe it would serve us well to remember that it wasn’t until the victorious colonial militia returned from their slaughter of the Pequot that the New Americans began their now time-honored and cherished Thanksgiving—I decided I would not be the one to diminish this child’s imagination of how the first Thanksgiving came to be.

Somehow, that would make me the Grinch that stole Christmas or the one who announced the Tooth Fairy isn’t real.

No one wants to be that person, especially me. I reasoned with myself that once innocence is lost, there really is no going back, now is there? Best then to keep them innocent as long as possible. But when does innocence become ignorance? As parents, when do you decide to educate your children on the real ways of the world; about how ugly and beautiful it can be—all at the same time?

Once I determined this was neither my child nor my battle, I instead expressed to the child that one should practice gratitude every day. I explained that Thanksgiving, for me, has become a gentle reminder as it ensures I express my gratitude out loud at least one day a year.

“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” ~ William Blake

Author: Mary Rogers

Editor: Cat Beekmans

 

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