Historically, Thanksgiving traditions were celebrated as gratitude to the gods after a successful harvest. These traditions date back to Ancient Greece and Rome; they are not unique to nor did they originate in the United States.
As a matter of fact, the day we celebrate as Thanksgiving Day (currently) was not the first Thanksgiving celebration in America. The first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated by a group of English settlers on the day of their arrival, December 4, 1619, and was celebrated thereafter thanking God for their arrival. The “official” Thanksgiving Day was first celebrated in October 1621, after the Pilgrim’s first harvest in Plymouth Colony. The Pilgrims celebrated and feasted on the harvested food, with the Wampanoag tribe in attendance. Thanksgiving was first named as a national holiday by President Lincoln. Since then, Thanksgiving has been celebrated on multiple dates, until Congress declared it be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. To find out more about Thanksgiving as well as other holidays take a look at Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary: Detailing More Than 3,000 Observances from All 50 States and More Than 100 Nations edited by Cherie D. Abbey.
Do we have Thanksgiving all wrong? Sanitizing “Indians” in America’s Thanksgiving story by Sierra Adare-Tasiwoopa ápi & Melissa Adams-Campbell explains how the education system has overlooked the brutality and violence inflicted on the Wampanoag tribe by the Pilgrims. Children are told that the Pilgrims and the Native Americans lived in harmony, and this narrative chooses to not educate children on the dark side of colonization. When thinking about Thanksgiving, we usually associate it with family, gratitude and happiness. We do not think about the many Native Americans that lost their lives to foreign diseases, war, slavery, and genocide brought by colonization.
An encyclopedia entry on the Wampanoag, available through the library’s online resources, elaborates on the history of the Wampanoag tribe. Wampanoag people lived in various locations in southern New England. They began their relationship with the Pilgrims in 1620. “There began the now famous relationship between the Indians and colonists, and there occurred the celebration of the first Thanksgiving, although this was a Pilgrim religious feast that was observed, not shared, by the Wampanoag.”
Other online resources:
- Fusion search
- Historical context sheds light on Thanksgiving horrors by Matthew Smith
- The Origins of Thanksgiving by Adrian Morgan
- First Encounter by Stephen Harrigan
On this Thanksgiving, in addition to eating turkey, spending time with friends and family, and starting your holiday shopping, we invite you to view the ebook Massasoit of the Wampanoags, or read about other Native Americans. Take a look at the ebook American Indian Biographies, for example the entry on Squanto, whose life is simply fascinating, and who translated communication between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags after escaping from slavery in Spain and living in England.
Heading image, [King (Metacomet) Philip, Sachem of the Wampanoags, d. 1676, full length, standing at treaty table with white men], available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints & Photographs division.