The Realities Behind Thanksgiving


Leilani Wetterau, Staff Writer

When children wonder how Thanksgiving came to be, they often find false stories about settlers and Native Americans sharing a meal together. Childhood books and movies such as A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, portray questionable tales of the “first Thanksgiving.” In reality, the European settlers from the infamous Mayflower had stripped land away from the indigenous people and eventually wiped out the majority of their population. This article will clarify any misconceptions you may have about the origins of Thanksgiving.

Dating back to the presidency of George Washington, autumn festivals have always been in the U.S. In 1863, however, an official holiday was issued by Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln declared that the holiday would be called Thanksgiving and would be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of November. Through Lincoln’s efforts to unite the country during the Civil War, the idea of family and unity became associated with Thanksgiving.

Many Americans are unaware that Thanksgiving was created by Lincoln. Instead, their minds jump to the Pilgrims. Senior Justin Li grew up thinking that the colonists and Native Americans “were having a party or something.” Sadly, this is far from the truth.

There was, in fact, a meal shared between the settlers and indigenous people. However, the dinner in 1621 was most likely not a cheerful get-together amongst friends and family, like it is today. “In actuality, the assembly of these people had much more to do with political alliances, diplomacy, and an effort at rarely achieved, temporary peaceful, coexistence,” explains the National Museum of the American Indian. The three-day feast was held between 90 native men and 50 English settlers. Sadly, the era of peace only lasted ten years. By the time the Pilgrims, technically called Separatists, were settled in America for a decade, 25,000 additional Englishmen arrived in the United States, wiping out thousands of Native Americans who were not immune to European diseases.

Another classic piece of the Thanksgiving story is about Squanto, actually named Tisquantum. He is known for being one of the main people to aid the Separatists with their agriculture needs. What most sources neglect to inform you is that the only reason Tisquantum was able to help the settlers was because he was one of the few native people who could speak English. The reason he was able to translate was because of his past as a slave in both England and Spain. This leads to another myth stating that the Pilgrims were the first Europeans in America. In actuality, the Spaniards had been traveling to and from the Americas since 1492. Sometime between 1492 and 1621, Native American leader Tisquantum was captured and sold into European slavery. Eventually, he made it back to the United States after crossing the Atlantic Ocean six times. It is because of this unfortunate sequence of events that Squanto was able to verbally communicate with the Separatists. 

Despite the gap between the harvest festival in 1621 and our celebrations today, Thanksgiving continues to be a meaningful time for many Americans. Sophomore Ella Yee stated, “I love Thanksgiving because it’s a time where I get to spend time with my relatives.” Many others share a similar affinity towards the holiday. As long as we recognize our country’s past and clear up myths about Thanksgiving’s origins, we can continue to celebrate and give thanks year after year. 

Graphic Courtesy thanks to WORDPRESS.COM