True Story of Thanksgiving: Unveiling the Historical Facts

Thanksgiving originated from a 1621 feast shared by Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe, evolving into a national holiday through historical and cultural transformations.

Origins of Thanksgiving

The origins of Thanksgiving trace back to pivotal events involving the early Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people.

From the perilous journey across the Atlantic to the celebrated harvest feast in 1621, the components of Thanksgiving reflect a history of survival, collaboration, and tradition.

Pilgrims’ Voyage and Arrival

In September 1620, a group of English Puritans, now commonly known as Pilgrims, set sail on the Mayflower to the New World in search of religious freedom.

They landed at Plymouth Rock in December after enduring harsh sea conditions and desolate prospects for settlement.

Plymouth Settlement

The Plymouth settlement faced a brutal first winter, with over half of the settlers perishing from exposure, scurvy, and diseases.

Survival relied heavily on the remaining settlers’ resilience and Governor William Bradford’s leadership skills, which helped maintain the colonists’ spirits and cohesion.

Wampanoag Alliance and Assistance

The survival of the Plymouth settlers can be attributed to the valuable assistance of the Wampanoag tribe, particularly Squanto, who taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap, fish in rivers, and avoid poisonous plants.

The Wampanoags, led by Chief Massasoit, formed an alliance with the settlers that was crucial for the Pilgrims’ sustenance and defense.

The 1621 Harvest Feast

After a successful harvest in the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims organized a three-day feast, which was attended by approximately 90 Wampanoag people and 53 Pilgrims.

The menu for this gathering included a variety of foods such as venison, duck, corn, and possibly pumpkin, but it did not feature potatoes or pumpkin pie.

Edward Winslow’s writings attest to this event, which is now considered the first Thanksgiving and the genesis of the modern American holiday.

Thanksgiving Evolution and Significance

Pilgrims and Native Americans gather around a table, sharing food and giving thanks

Thanksgiving as celebrated in the United States has undergone significant transformation and possesses a rich historical and cultural significance.

Its evolution mirrors the nation’s history and reflects its cultural shifts over time.

Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln played a pivotal role in the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In 1863, during the Civil War, he proclaimed a national day of celebration, setting a precedent for the holiday to be observed annually on the last Thursday of November.

National Day of Thanksgiving

The idea of a national day of Thanksgiving was not new when Lincoln made his proclamation; however, it was his act that solidified the tradition.

It served as an attempt to foster unity during the turmoil of the Civil War and reflected the Pilgrims’ harvest celebration with the Wampanoag tribe in 1621, as often noted by historical accounts.

Modern Celebrations and Traditions

Today’s Thanksgiving bears little resemblance to the original 1621 harvest meal.

Modern celebrations typically involve large family gatherings, feasting on turkey and other festive dishes, watching football games, and participating in parades.

This evolution illustrates the adaptability and personalization of the holiday traditions over centuries.

Controversies and Challenges

While Thanksgiving is a time of celebration, it also carries a legacy of controversy.

It represents a simplified and sometimes sanitized version of the interactions between Native Americans and European settlers. Recent discussions focus on re-examining the narrative and acknowledging the complex history of the holiday, including the plight of indigenous peoples.