The truth about Thanksgiving

The real story of how this holiday came to be.

With another Thanksgiving having come and gone, I have once again found myself thinking about the first one; the first Thanksgiving that everyone learned about in elementary school. You know the one with the pilgrims, the turkey, and the giving thanks for everything. 

To start from the beginning, between 1616 and 1619 a total of 90% of the Indigenous population was wiped out by the introduction of diseases that they didn’t have immunity to. This was the result of settlers trying to establish a settlement along the East Coast, but not being able to due to the high population of Native people. Settlers also took many Indigneous men hostage to sell into slavery. All of this understandably led to high tensions between the Indigenous people and new coming settlers. Local tribes were also extremely cautious and suspicious of any newcomers after that point. 

News of the New World had spread and the Pilgrims, who were trying to escape the persecution of the monarchy for practicing their religion, made a 66-day journey across the Pacific Ocean in 1620 on the Mayflower. They first landed in Cape Cod and then journeyed across the Massachusetts Bay to establish a small village called Plymouth. The pilgrims were not equipped to survive in the New World and were dying off rapidly from starvation and exposure. The local Indigenous people chose to help them establish a promising agricultural set up and how to live with the land. The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people supposedly shared a three-day feast that would later be known as Thanksgiving.

Supposedly, the purpose behind Thanksgiving was to give thanks and bless the autumn harvest and the harvest for the next year. However, this is not the case today nor was it really the case then either. Today, some families spend time being thankful for everything they have been given over the last year, but that wasn’t the intent behind the first Thanksgiving.

Photo/Painting by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914)

The genocide and brutality against Indigenous people since the colonization of the Americas is also no secret. For years, settlers would quite literally hunt Indigenous people for a bounty. Indigenous people also faced persecution for practicing our own spiritual beliefs and rituals, which if you think about it is the exact thing that the Pilgrims had been trying to escape. These dark truths don’t exclude the now-consumeristic holiday that we know today. 

Thanksgiving, while the modern idea behind it is seemingly harmless, has nothing to do with the original holiday. There is very little in common with the first Thanksgiving that everyone is taught about. They didn’t have turkey, they didn’t have mashed potatoes, they didn’t have Grandma’s homemade pecan pie. 

This being said, why are we still calling this holiday Thanksgiving? Why are we still celebrating it as if it is the same holiday? It has nothing in common with the original idea of the holiday, including the food and the purpose behind the holiday and activities. 

Personally, I like to refer to this holiday as Food Day or Turkey Day. This is what the day entails if you really think about it. Everyone gathers at one person’s house and then they consume way more food than is probably recommended and watch whatever football game happens to be on. Sure some families might go around the dinner table and say what they are thankful for, but again it’s really just about food. 

Thanksgiving has a very dark history that has directly affected Indigenous people in the worst way possible, and it’s not the only one.That being said, it’s important to be mindful of what you are celebrating and the origins behind it.