The History and Celebration of Thanksgiving
In the fall of 1621, a meal known as the first Thanksgiving took place. This meal was celebrated by pilgrims and Native Americans following the first harvest that the pilgrims partook in after they settled in the New World. However, the relationship between Europeans and Native Americans was far from harmonious. Many Americans seem to forget that these same pilgrims helped commit a mass genocide of the Native Americans, the aftershocks of which are still being felt today.
The first Thanksgiving did not happen as many Americans believe it did. Truthfully, the first Thanksgiving wasn’t really the first, as it wasn’t uncommon for people to hold festivals to celebrate a plentiful harvest. In 1621, settlers decided to celebrate their harvest, and some Native Americans feasted with them (how and why remains unknown); simple as that. The Native tribe that partook in this feast were known as the Wampanoag, and during this time, they were being slowly weakened by European settlers.
Thanks to British colonization, a large percentage of the Wampanoag population died between the years of 1616 and 1619. Because of this, the Wampanoag were vulnerable to rival tribes as well as the incoming settlers. They chose to ally themselves with the pilgrims because of their weakened state; they believed this alliance would give them the best shot of survival.
This proved to be false; a generation after the first Thanksgiving took place, the alliance between the two parties began to fall apart. King Philip's War was the result of these dwindling relations. Metacom, a native chief known to the English as King Philip, led the fight against English settlers who had become increasingly oppressive towards the Native tribes in New England. The war ended in 1676; needless to say, the Native Americans had not won. Instead, they were either killed or enslaved.
It is easy to see why Thanksgiving is not as happy a time as people think. Native Americans were suffering before, during, and long after the first Thanksgiving took place. Indeed, the first Thanksgiving can be seen as the beginning of a centuries-long war against Native American customs and traditions. The pilgrims stole land, resources, and ultimately, the lives of many of the Native tribes in the New England area. The reality of the first Thanksgiving is a far cry from the peaceful depictions that many Americans are given.
So in the face of genocide and cultural insensitivity, how can one celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving with a clear conscience? This question can’t be easily answered. The traditional idea behind Thanksgiving died before it was even born; there was no happy communion that brought lasting peace to America. Some say that celebrating the holiday at all is akin to celebrating mass murder. Others say that as long as you educate yourself about the real history behind the holiday, then you should be fine to celebrate as you see fit.
Personally, I choose to celebrate Thanksgiving as a harvest holiday, not a historical one. I choose to celebrate my family and the food before us, but I do not celebrate the settlers that came before me. I despise what many of them did, and therefore, I cannot in clear conscience associate Thanksgiving with pilgrims. I do not support the erasure of the true history behind the first Thanksgiving from our culture, and I firmly believe that everyone should know what really happened between Native Americans and settlers during the years of colonization.
On Thanksgiving, I acknowledge the mass genocide of the Native American people, and I encourage others to do what they can to help these communities. I get together with my family to give thanks for the many blessings that I have in my life. I do not, and will not, celebrate the pilgrims, and I motivate all Americans to learn the real history behind what happened all those centuries ago on the first Thanksgiving.