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Editorial: Thanksgiving’s History Should be Honored

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States that occurs every fourth Thursday of November. It wasn’t until 1863, during the Civil War, when it was proclaimed a national holiday. 

The common image of Thanksgiving is a table piled with food like mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole and, of course, turkey. We know the story of the “first Thanksgiving” well, at least we think we do. 

As children we would see depictions of Puritans in big hats, lots of buckles and ugly black shoes feasting alongside their allies the Wampanoag. A good time was had by all as they rejoiced over their friendship and harvest. 

The images we saw were a warped version of what happened. In reality, the Puritans were a group of Christians who spent more time fasting than feasting and believed most celebrations were unnecessary and wasteful. The first Thanksgiving was not “thanksgiving” but a rejoicing. Rejoicing often had feasts, drinking, military drills, contests of strengths and more.

The Pilgrims did not invite their allies to the festivities. In fact the Wampanoags showed up with maybe as many as 90 men, which was more than the entire population of Plymouth. 

The Wampanoags had heard the gunfire from the Puritans’ military drills and thought their allies were under attack so they came to their aid. Eventually the Puritans and Wampanoag figured out there was no threat from either side and spent the next three days together, explained David Silverman, a Native American historian.

There is no Native American narrative of these events and we have a story from only one side. However we do know decades after the uneasy peace King Philip’s War broke out in the New England region that devastated the Native American population.

We were taught to falsely see Thanksgiving as an example of intercultural unity. The Thanksgiving story tries to hide what happened between the Native people of America and European colonizers. It tries to paint a picture of peacefulness and coexistence when there was anything but. 

It is important to understand the complete history of our past. We cannot use the incorrect histories we were taught as truth. Seeing the truth of events allows us to do a better job of understanding the issues we see today because how can you properly address an issue if you do not understand the causes?