Tag Archives: natives
Image

What Really Happened On The Original Thanksgiving Day?

5 Nov

What Really Happened On The Original Thanksgiving Day?

Hello, everyone! Welcome to my blog. November is here; the eleventh month of the year. Wow! I can’t believe this year is almost over. November is a month of spring in the Southern Hemisphere and autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. The Romans named the month of November from novem, which is Latin for nine, since November was their ninth month.

Here in the USA, November is the month for giving thanks. Thanksgiving is a national holiday here, but it was not always so. There’s a cute fact about this: the woman who wrote the classic nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” also played an integral role in making Thanksgiving a national holiday. She was a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale. She wrote letters to elected officials and campaigned for seventeen years. Now that’s what I call perseverance! She finally convinced President Abraham Lincoln to issue a decree recognizing Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. Good for her!

My family has always celebrated Thanksgiving in the traditional way. Our meal consists of a large roasted turkey, cranberry sauce (a must at my house), mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams (which I make with cream, brown sugar and my secret ingredient: marshmallows), stuffing, cornbread and green-bean casserole. Dessert usually consists of some kind of pie—usually pumpkin, pecan or apple—and chocolate cake (my brother has to have it). This is a very time-honored menu, in keeping with the traditional meal eaten by the original pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Elsewhere, traditional dishes may reflect the region or cultural background of those celebrating, such as macaroni and cheese, collard greens, Kugel, latkes, biscuits, rutabagas, peas and carrots, and much more. Is anyone else getting hungry?

We all know (well, most of us in the USA) the sugarcoated version of the events that transpired on that first Thanksgiving Day. Or do we really? There’s a famous quote by Winston S. Churchill, and it reads like this; “History is written by the victors.” Hmm. I wonder what he meant by that?

This is the version of Thanksgiving I was taught in school: Civilized European Pilgrims set out across the Atlantic Ocean, and their efforts were rewarded with an entire continent of untold wealth. (Never mind the half-naked natives running around.) In 1621, after working, praying and surviving a bitter winter, the pilgrims took in an abundant harvest yielded by seeds brought from home. Inviting their heathen neighbors to join them, the Pilgrims gave thanks for their New World and its riches at a meal.

I guess what you learn in school changes every few years, so you have to re-learn stuff you thought you knew (like Pluto was a planet and now it isn’t, even though it has five moons). Okay, I’m already confusing myself, so let me continue before I lose you.

So that was the story of Thanksgiving I grew up believing. I have a friend who is a Native American Indian. I just found out that she does not celebrate Thanksgiving! I asked her why, and her response completely surprised me.

Wampanoag Indian

Wampanoag Indian

She says what really happened on that first Thanksgiving Day went more like this: After two months at sea and several deaths, the Pilgrims landed in July of 1620 on the coast of Massachusetts where the Wampanoags lived. These Indians wore leather garments (adding furs during the winter) and skillfully cultivated corn, beans, squash and pumpkins. They also hunted the woods for dear, elk and bear and fished for salmon and herring.

The wheat the Pilgrims brought from Europe was completely unsuited to the New England soil and failed to germinate. Half the settlers died during that first winter. The natives took pity on the Pilgrims. They saw they had no food and did not know how to work the land. So they brought them venison and furs, taught them how to plant corn using fish as fertilizer, how to dig for clams and tap maple trees for syrup. The Indians saved them from starvation and death.

The natives had a custom of celebrating six different thanksgiving festivals during the year. A dinner party the settlers were celebrating coincided with one of the Indians’ thanksgiving festivals, and they invited the generous natives who had saved their lives.

More than ninety Indians showed up for dinner. The Pilgrim menu was not enough for such a large crowd, so several Indians went out and returned with five deer. Here’s what was actually on the original Thanksgiving menu: venison, wild duck, wild geese, eels, clams, squash, corn bread, berries and nuts.

That meal was one of the last untroubled moments the settlers and natives spent together. Journals and letters written by those first settlers contain accounts of plundering indigenous stows of food, tools and furs. If the pilgrims hit upon it, they seized it. Within fifty years, most of the Wampanoags had died off, most claimed by European diseases, others murdered outright. Today, there are still five hundred Wampanoags living in New England.

They do not celebrate the American Thanksgiving.

Whatever the history of Thanksgiving, I believe it is a day to give thanks for what we have. Too often we focus on what we don’t have—or worse—on what others have that we want. Let’s give thanks for another day of living, for the roof over our heads, for our health, our family and even our pets (that bring us so much joy). As a matter of fact, we don’t have to wait for that one day a year to be grateful. Let’s give thanks everyday because if you focus on the positive, you will see that there’s always something to be thankful for.

thank-you