By: Renee Mahi

History

Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated by thousands of people all across North America. It’s a time to feast on turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, apple cider and many other delicious delights while scrolling through witty #Thanksgivingclapback posts on Instagram. However, not many people know where the holiday originated from. Most of the ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving food was not featured in the first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims. In fact, the holiday wasn’t even called Thanksgiving!

The first Thanksgiving took place nearly 400 years ago after the first successful Pilgrim corn harvest. Pilgrims were a combination of religious separatists and individuals entranced by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in North America. The arrived at Cape Cod from Plymouth, England in the September of 1620. The following winter was harsh with many of the crew members suffering from scurvey and other contagious diseases. Only half of the original crew lived to see the next Spring.

The March after their arrival, the Pilgrims moved ashore where they were visited by an Abenaki Indian who spoke to them in English. He also introduced them to Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. Although Squanto was previously enslaved by an English sea captain, he still helped the Pilgrims survive by teaching them how to:

  • harvest corn

  • fish in rivers

  • extract maple syrup from trees

  • identify poisonous plants

Although the survival skills taught by Squanto were invaluable, his most notable contribution was arguably his role in creating an alliance between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag, a local tribe. The alliance lasted more than half a century and is sadly one of the sole examples of harmony between European Colonists and Indigenous people.

The following November, after the Pilgrims’ first successful corn harvest, the Governor, William Bradford, planned a celebratory feast. He invited members of the Wampanoag tribe. It is likely that most of the food featured at the first Thanksgiving was made using Indigenous spices and cooking methods.

Significance

Thanksgiving symbolizes one of the few harmonious relationships between the European Colonists and Indigenous people. However, a lot of controversy still exists.

Many individuals believe that the portrayal of Thanksgiving in the media and education system shows the relationship between the Pilgrims and Indigenous people as deceptively positive when in reality conflict between the two groups has resulted in the deaths of millions. Since 1970, protestors have stood on Plymouth Rock to commemorate a “National Day of Mourning”.

Sources:

https://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving

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