Myth-Busting the Thanksgiving Origin Story

Myth-Busting the Thanksgiving Origin Story

>> Children today still learn a nonsensical story about native people happily handing off their property to the English. >>

Der Sieger wird immer der Richter und der Besiegte stets der Angeklagte sein.Winston Churchill’s nemesis Hermann Göring during the Nuremberg trials.

The U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is steeped in nostalgia, togetherness and synonymous with a traditional feast, including stuffing, turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. We focus on what we’re thankful for and our hearts start beating a little faster as we anticipate the rest of the holiday season unfolding. There’s even a sense of pride in the country’s fabled origin story. Oh, and evil pilgrims (more on that in a second). 

I’m not used to doing a roundtable of giving thanks during the holiday but I do routinely practice gratitude in my journal. Practicing gratitude isn’t just for woke Joe Rogan types who drink mushroom coffee every morning, by the way — or just for Thanksgiving. In fact, a recent survey on happiness revealed a five minute daily gratitude journal can increase long term feelings of well being by more than 10%. 

While taking a moment to think about what you’re thankful for each day is excellent for your mental health, it’s not exactly what the pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feast was about.

The reason why I bring this up is because, well, the Thanksgiving origin story is all lies and we should probably start focusing on other elements of the holiday if we want to keep it going. Here lies a quick history lesson. 

Happily Conceding to Colonialism 

As the story goes from our childhood history books, in 1620 the Mayflower full of pilgrims landed in the New World (Plymouth, MA). They’re welcomed by a friendly and nameless tribe of natives, who willingly teach the English how to live in this new land. The native people hand off the land to the pilgrims and agree to allow them to create a new nation under Christianity dedicated to liberty. Hence a feast of thanks when the first harvest comes in that fall.

The Truth: Pilgrims Suck

First of all, the Wampanoags people alone were living in America for centuries before the Mayflower invaded their land. They’d been in bloody conflict with Europeans already, a handful already spoke English and they were at odds with tribal rebel factions. At first, the Wampanoags wanted to create an alliance with the pilgrims against the other tribes. During this time, a few native people taught the pilgrims how to plant corn, hunt and cook. In the fall of 1621, the pilgrims famously had a celebration feast that scholars believe lasted up to three days. Who was exactly in attendance, who got the invite and what was served is still in argument today. 

In time, the relationship between the pilgrims and natives faded over land disputes, murder and rape. Alliances were broken and it all culminated in the first of the nasty Indian Wars: King Philip’s War from 1675-1678.

Pilgrim Propaganda and Bloodless Colonialism Lies

Christianity, power and ego is what happened next. For thousands of years around the globe, people fasted during times of hardship and feasted during times of abundance or celebration. The (New) English people themselves originally celebrated a giving of thanks to their god by fasting and praying but by 1769, slavery and a bloody extension of Manifest Destiny was causing much darkness in the colonies.

They wanted to paint a nicer picture of the role their pilgrim ancestors played. The New England colony launched a PR campaign that positioned pilgrims as integral founders of the country that facilitated the first Thanksgiving feast.

Their new Thanksgiving tale of bloodless colonialism helped disassociate New England from the Indian Wars and slavery. Then, Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday during the Civil War to create unity.

Children today still learn a nonsensical story about native people happily handing off their property to the English in the name of their Christian god and liberty. The truth damages the Founding Fathers’ established lore that the country’s origin was peaceful, celebratory and an example of tolerance. In reality, the Native Americans were pretty fed up with Europeans invading their land for centuries but New England colonists needed to have a story of unity for them to shine.

Crescent’s T-Day List of Memories

  • Paper hand turkey crafts
  • Brown, carb-rich foods
  • Watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 
  • Heated kitchen arguments on gravy
  • The one family member who’s always late
  • Playing basketball at the neighbors’ court with freezing hands
  • Smoking in the garage and pretending to play darts
  • Reading by a hot fire
  • Hours playing Risk and Monopoly
  • Napping
  • Listing to jam sessions in the basement
  • Icy car rides to visit family
  • Deep conversations with cousins
  • Delayed flights and baggage
  • Friendsgiving in California
  • Shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday but never buying anything
  • Crushed velvet outfits

Remember, history is written by the victors and Churchill is not the one that originally said that. If you’re curious, the translation of the quote in the beginning is as follows: The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused. 

As we struggle to find some remaining truth to what we thought was real history, it can be disheartening. Instead, focus on a table of abundance, practice gratitude and embrace your loved ones.

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