Tag Archives: Pilgrims

The First Thanksgiving – Origins of a Feastday, and a Fantasy


TG 1

We’ve all seen the clip art. Smiling Pilgrims, Indians and happy turkeys. We’ve seen the detailed oil painting from the era as well. Currier and Ives stuff. They warm the heart. They make us feel as though we really know what transpired on that day (actually three days) so long ago. We feel that we understand the events leading up to it. We feel connected. Art, become history.

But what do we really know?

Turns out . . . not much. Most of the historical information is pretty sketchy. Some things, however–we do know.

(From the Huffington Post – 11/21/11)

“If you happen to spend Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts this year, you can choose between two public commemorations. You can watch the official parade, in which townspeople dressed like Pilgrims march to Plymouth Rock bearing blunderbusses and beating drums. Or you can stand on top of Coles Hill with indigenous people and their supporters, and fast, in observance of what they call a ‘National day of mourning’ in remembrance if the destruction of Native American culture and peoples.”

“In fact, the end times began for Massachusetts Indians several years earlier, when British slaving crews inadvertently introduced smallpox–carried by their infected cattle–to coastal New England killing over ninety percent of local populations, who lacked antibodies to fight the disease.”

“This was a rather astonishing figure compared to the 30 percent death rates at the height of the European Black Plague.”

Apparently, it wasn’t all warmth and fuzziness back then in the colonies.

Modern day stories tell of compassionate Indians taking pity on the white colonialists, and bringing corn and other foodstuffs to see them through that first disastrous winter.

The corn, or maize, as it was then called, was far more likely stolen from the Indians. And were the Indians invited to the celebratory dinner? Well, probably not. Seems the whites may have been shooting off guns in celebration of the harvest, and the Indians, simply curious about what was going on–crashed the party.

There were probably far too many for the Pilgrims to politely ask to leave the festivities.

And if the Indians were being compassionate, it was probably pretty short-sighted of them, as not too long after this first Thanksgiving, the whites fanned out west across the continent, exterminating as many Indians as possible–and in as short a time as the then modern technology would allow.

The Gatling Gun soon replaced the Blunderbuss.

At any rate, it all became part of our folklore– part of our shared national memory. And if the truth is a little blurred and frayed around the edges? Well, what the matter? It never is a good idea to let the facts stand in the way of a good story anyhow.

An awful lot of turkeys have paid the price since then.

cornucopia for autumn
cornucopia for autumn

What was really on the menu? Sad news for the modern day birds, it seems turkey was not one of the items. More likely wild fowl of some kind, most probably ducks and geese–along with venison, corn mush, stewed pumpkin, or traditional Indian succotash.

No cranberry sauce or green olives in sight, and definitely no afternoon football either.

It is a wonder that the tradition survived, but survive it did. That translates to some pretty bad news for about forty-six million turkeys per year. That’s Thanksgiving day alone, with many more on Christmas, New Years Day, and even Easter.

America is a tough place to be a Turkey. Apparently the only safe ones are in Congress.

I’d like to take a moment to wish all of you, my loyal readers, a most Happy Thanksgiving Day, and a wonderful Christmas to follow as well.

As the Pilgrims gave thanks to the man up above for deliverance from that first hard winter, and for the bountiful harvest that followed the next Fall–let us be ever thankful for good friends, good health, wonderful family, and all our many other blessing.

May the grace of God be with you all, on this day, and always.


Until the next time .  .  . Good Night.