Thanksgiving is a holiday that is celebrated by Americans every fourth Thursday of November. Typically, people will host a Thanksgiving dinner where foods like turkey, potatoes, cranberries, and stuffing are served.
Like the name, people will share about things that they are most grateful for from the previous year over dinner. Some people also celebrate it by watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
However, there is a whole different story behind this festive holiday. So now, let’s check out the real history behind Thanksgiving!
The First Thanksgiving Celebration
According to historians, the first celebration of Thanksgiving took place in 1621. At that time, the Mayflower pilgrims who founded the Plymouth Colony sat down for a three-day meal with the Wampanoag.
Surprisingly, even though the meal is portrayed as the symbol of peace today, it was not. It was more of just another routine English harvest celebration.
The first Thanksgiving feast was not as happy as it seemed. The relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag was fraught.
The pilgrims first arrived in 1620. At that time, they were unprepared and had almost nothing to eat. So, they robbed corn from Native Americans’ graves and storehouses.
Later in November 1621, the Wampanoag heard the pilgrims shooting off guns. The historians believe that the shooting made the Wampanoag worried if a war was underway.
However, after King Massasoit sent 90 of his men to investigate, they soon realized that the pilgrims were in the middle of a celebration. The Wampanoag then hunted deer meat and joined the feast.
Unfortunately, according to Sarah Wassberg Johnson, a food historian, the peace didn’t last for too long. In 1637, the pilgrims started a decades-long war and ultimately massacred the local tribes, including the Wampanoag.
How Thanksgiving Becomes What It Is Now
So where did the word “Thanksgiving” come from?
In English tradition, days of thanksgiving originally marked a day where people practice religious services to give thanks to God and celebrate a bountiful harvest.
The first-ever recorded religious thanksgiving day in Plymouth took place around two years after the 1621 feast. Later on, people celebrate Thanksgiving as military victories over Native Americans.
In 1789, after George Washington became president, he proclaimed the first national day of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, many subsequent presidents ignored the tradition, until President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday again during the Civil War.
After the Civil War, Thanksgiving became instilled with nostalgia for the mythological founding of America at Plymouth Rock.
Sarah Wassberg Johnson said that since the true story of the pilgrims and Native Americans was not accessible, stories of benevolent pilgrims conquering and founding the country were being passed off as history.
We can see a lot of 19th-century artwork or reenactments of the first Thanksgiving portray Native Americans as savages.
Eventually, in 1941, the U.S. Congress established the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. The holiday then became an opportunity to gather with family and eat good food.
However, Thanksgiving day invokes a legacy of racism, violence, genocide, and mistreatment for many Native Americans.
In the 1970s, Native people began to gather on the holiday to hold a day of mourning instead. This tradition is known as Unthanksgiving Day.
Source: National Geographic