In the traditional American Thanksgiving tale, the colonists, called Pilgrims, dressed all in black, wore square buckled shoes and tall hats and came to America for religious freedom.
In fact, they were Separatists who left England to establish their own church as well as new money-making enterprises to support their families, and both men and women of the upper classes were known for their colorful outfits.
Some stories say that the first Thanksgiving was held in Texas in 1548 or possibly in Virginia in 1619. Regardless of where or exactly when the “first Thanksgiving” was held, indigenous people had already been on this continent for at least 12,000 years, celebrating successful harvests and hunts in multiple seasons.
Squanto, called Tisquantum by his own people, had been captured by the English years before the Pilgrims supposedly invited him to dinner. He had been sold into slavery in Spain and found his entire village dead of smallpox upon his return to this continent. He was a member of the Wampanoag tribe and one of several who spoke English when the Pilgrims arrived.
As to the menu purportedly served for that famous meal, the modern version is not necessarily accurate either. There were no sweet potatoes here at the time and, although cranberries might have been served as a fruit in a recipe called a “berry slump”, there was no such thing as cranberry sauce. The “turkey” was more likely a goose or duck, or possibly a wild turkey, which wouldn’t have tasted anything like the moist and juicy Butterball known today. The only thing we know for sure was on almost every table of the times was venison accompanied by some form of nut soup or wild rice.
Last but not least of the myths of Thanksgiving is the date of the holiday. The first “Official Thanksgiving Holiday” was celebrated under President George Washington in 1789. It wasn’t held again until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation making the last Thursday of November a national holiday. In 1939, President Roosevelt moved it to the third Thursday of November in an effort to extend the Christmas shopping season to bolster a slumping American economy. Two years later, in 1941, it was officially established as a United States federal holiday to be celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in November, the holiday date we enjoy today.
Regardless of the date or menu or dress of the day, the stereotypes depicted in the myths surrounding the holiday detract from the culture and oftentimes tragic history of the Indigenous people of this continent. For them, it may not be celebrated as a joyous holiday but rather a day of mourning, the beginning of the end of life as they knew it before the colonists arrived.
J Stanion, Author of My Place Among Them, available on Amazon