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Photo by Alan Vernon.

Thanksgiving brings to mind a long table laden end-to-end with cornucopias of fruit, glasses of wine, bowls of puddings, and a platter of bronzed turkey as the centrepiece.

THE ORIGINAL THANKSGIVING FEAST occurred in 1621 and was shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe of what is now southern New England. During the previous year, the Native Americans had taught the Pilgrims how not to start to death during winter and get a good crop going during the growing season. The 1621 affair was apparently a peaceful gathering to express gratitude.

Nowadays, there are few explicit reminders on the fourth Thursday of November of the events that followed: basically, murder, land theft, and genocide. By the late 1700s, nearly the entire Wampanoag population had been killed off or shipped to the West Indies as slave laborers.

Photo by Jesse757

According to HowStuffWorks, here are some other elements we appropriated and incorporated into the holiday, which persist today:

  • Turkey – In the New World, wild turkey thrived in sufficient numbers to feed the entire population. The bird was served at the first feast with Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford.
  • Side dishes – Cranberries were also present at the first Thanksgiving. Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to make a bitter sauce from the berry they called ibimi. The Pilgrims renamed the berry because its flowers reminded them of cranes.
  • Football – During ancient harvest ceremonies, people celebrated by playing games and sports. today, the majority of the population sits engorged on the couch and leaves it to a select group of athletes to keep this tradition alive.
Native American celebrations today

Unsurprisingly, many Native Americans honour Thanksgiving differently.

While mainstream America is carving up an estimated 45 million turkeys, various tribes in Massachusetts will be paying tribute via the National Day of Mourning atop Coles Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock. The Wampanoags and others fast for the occasion, a direct and intentional contrast to the standard Thanksgiving tradition of overconsumption. In recent years, the event has grown to include presentations, skits, and demonstrations.

Others approach Thanksgiving from a more nuanced perspective. In A Native American View, Jacqueline Keeler admits she celebrates Thanksgiving. To her, the day is about giving thanks for being a descendant of the small group of survivors of Europe’s ‘discovery’ of America.

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About The Author

Candice Walsh

Candice Walsh is a Professional Experience Collector and full-time writer, blogger, and inventor of job titles that don't make much sense. She's based out of St. John's, Newfoundland. Follow her website for more shenanigans.

  • Nancy

    Great, timely article. Who knew they had cranberry sauce and football (games)? Interesting to see how the Native Americans celebrate. I never knew about the National Day of Mourning. I’m not surprised though…I usually feel mixed feelings about Thanksgiving because of US history. Thanks for sharing this Candice!

  • Hal Amen

    “severe colonialization” indeed

  • Candice Walsh

    I love the idea of fasting vs feasting, it’s such an effective expression.

  • Adam Roy

    Nice article Candice. It certainly helps to be thankful, but I can’t stand those “official story”-style holidays.

    Columbus Day was always the worst for me. The dude was a slave trader and a torturer. Shouldn’t get you a holiday in my book.

  • Michelle

    I agree, Candice – the fasting is brilliant.

  • Candice Walsh

    Thanks Michelle and Adam. A little absurd what we celebrate sometimes, eh?

  • Skyy

    Thanksgiving in the Manhattan Colony
    In 1641 the Dutch governor Kieft of Manhattan offered the first “scalp
    bounty”–his government paid money for the scalp of each Indian brought
    to them. A couple years later, Kieft ordered the massacre of the
    Wappingers, a friendly tribe. Eighty were killed and their severed heads
    were kicked like soccer balls down the streets of Manhattan. One
    captive was castrated, skinned alive and
    forced to eat his own flesh while the Dutch governor watched and
    laughed. Then Kieft hired the notorious Underhill who had commanded in
    the Pequot war to carry out a similar massacre near Stamford,
    Connecticut. The village was set fire, and 500 Indian residents were put
    to the sword. A day of thanksgiving was proclaimed in the churches
    of Manhattan. As we will see, the European colonists declared
    Thanksgiving Days to celebrate mass murder more often than they did for
    harvest and friendship.

    • Suprashirish

      USA has known holidays just for mass murders, the american people are at sleep on what really goes on. LIving with the bully feels good to most people because they get to have material goods, but in reality they are at no peace with in themselves. The most powerful nation in the world takes the most amout of meds from depression!

  • Lala

    I think all american holidays should be revised. people have forgotten why some of those even exist, and a grand majority of them have no idea why they exist. if anything, i think we should have a national ignorance day, where we eat alot, hang with family and friends, drink in happiness. wait a minute,,,dont we do that on a natural basis???  mmmmmm….. whats going on?

  • Matti Kniva Spencer

    This is another very informative article…a must read…if u want to find out a few facts about Native American Indians…and feel free to pass this article on…it’s not too long….and easy to read and understand! Happy Native American Indian Month…to all my people…family and friend out there…on fb!

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