There’s More to the Thanksgiving Story

Written by: Isabelle Grace Penta

Today, Thanksgiving in the United States has more to do with cranberry sauce and the Macy’s Day Parade than anything related to the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621, and most people would agree that it’s all for the better. How people celebrate Thanksgiving is no exception to the diversity of the United States. The food, traditions, and meaning of Thanksgiving differ from family to family, and sometimes even within one family! And yet, there are still some classic elements that make Thanksgiving an iconic holiday in the States, including the importance of being thankful for what we have.

My family rarely celebrates Thanksgiving the same way twice: one year in Amsterdam, another in Dublin, just close family at home, at my grandparents’ home, with college friends, or in a hotel hallway while I finished my travel quarantine.

And yet, the holiday is also a consistent way families have handed down traditions and recipes from generation to generation. The image of a family at the table with a turkey next to bread rolls made from great-great-great grandma’s recipe and a football game on the TV is still commonly found in the States.

educators, community and digital leaders, and the public have begun talking about the holiday with a more honest and complete view of its history. The story of religious Pilgrims arriving in Massachusetts and struggling to survive until the help of Native American Indians allowed them to produce a successful harvest which they celebrated by having a meal together, is not entirely incorrect. However, it is incomplete.

The story is incomplete because it lacks a full account of what happened before and after the “first Thanksgiving.” Without more details, this story creates an image of perfect peace between the colonist and Native American Indians, when in fact, this relationship was much more strained. Conflict between the Pilgrims and Native Americans happened both before and after the first Thanksgiving and led to a genocide of nearly all Native American Indian tribes. Some honor Thanksgiving Day as a day of mourning for the Native Americans that died after European colonists arrived, the theft of Native American land, and the culture that has since been lost. Even within the many Native American Tribes that still exist today — which include the Wampanoags, who originally inhabited the land the Pilgrims landed on in 1620 — how Thanksgiving Day is honored can look very different.

Above all, the day is meant for reflection, gratitude, family, and friend. And, of course, why not have a fantastic meal on the same day?

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