I love this painting, its called, “The First Thanksgiving” (1912 – 1915) by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris. I love it because it gives a perfectly wrong impression of what things were like. But anyway…
Thinking aloud here, so just bare with me….
What is it about the story of “The First Thanksgiving” that makes it essential to be taught in virtually every grade from preschool through high school? What is it about the story that is so seductive? Why has it become an annual elementary school tradition to hold Thanksgiving pageants, with young children dressing up in paper-bag costumes and feather-duster headdresses and marching around the schoolyard?
I’ve learned that with many holidays and events in American History, many of these commonly believed traditions about the origins and celebration of this holiday are based more on myth than fact.
For starters, no one knows when the “first” thanksgiving occurred.
People have been giving thanks for as long as people have existed. Nations all over the world have celebrations of the harvest that come from very old traditions; for Native peoples, thanksgiving comes not once a year, but every day. So to refer to the harvest feast of 1621 as “The First Thanksgiving” is very misleading to me. Its not even fully certain that the first dinner included turkey. In fact, the first feast probably included many fowl, along with venison, corn, and pumpkin. This idea of holding a harvest feast was not something new to the “pilgrims”. Many cultures throughout history had held feasts honoring a family member or simply being thankful for the bounty. Many in England celebrated the British Harvest Home tradition.
Speaking of the word, “pilgrim”….
Pilgrims are actually people who travel for religious reasons, such as Muslims who make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Most of those who arrived here from England were religious people who had broken away from the Church of England. They called themselves “Saints”; others called them “Separatists.” Some of the settlers were “Puritans” but it wasn’t until around the time of the American Revolution that the name “Pilgrims” came to be associated with the Plimoth settlers.
On another side note….
Thanksgiving is yes, and for the most part, a joyous and happy occasion but for many Indian people, “Thanksgiving” could be looked at as a time of mourning, of remembering how a gift of generosity (That would be sharing their land) was rewarded by theft of that land, extermination of many from disease and gun, and near total destruction of many more from forced absorption. As currently celebrated in this country, “Thanksgiving” is a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship. But that’s just me being too picky. Anyway let’s eat!