1620 A New Look At Thanksgiving

Anyone else feel like the old traditional ways of recognizing and celebrating Thanksgiving aren’t quite right? For years I’ve struggled with how to teach about Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, and Indians happily having a first meal together to celebrate; but to celebrate what exactly?

I found the above book and opened it up to see if it could help answer some questions that I had about this. I’m going to type the first page from this book, word for word.

Forward written by Nancy Brennan-Executive Director Plimoth Plantation and Margaret M. Bruchac- Wampanoag Indian Program Advisory Committee.

“Back in the 19th Century, one paragraph of only 115 words in one letter written in 1621 about a harvest gathering inspired the growth of an American tradition that became a national holiday: Thanksgiving. A number of today’s assumptions about that event are based more on fiction than on fact.”

As I read this honest reflection I realized that I may have found a source that will help me move forward. After all, if Plimoth Plantation, what many of us consider a Pilgrim museum, can wonder about this and explore our beliefs while searching for the truth, certainly American’s can too. No?

So I continued reading: “Many Americans think that the Pilgrims took over empty land from roving Native wanderers who had no fixed settlement. They are unaware of the continued existence of Native people. Unquestioning acceptance of biased interpretations can affect the way we treat one another, even today.”

When I read that section I knew I located exactly what I was looking for. In this year, the year of 2017 in the United States, what many of us refer to as the year of the Upside Down World, the year when chaos took over our country’s soul, I needed something to help me find truth.  Did the election of our 45th president bring about racism or did it just expose what has always been here? An honest question in my mind. Many say it goes back to slavery. Yes, it certainly does and slavery is certainly a sin we still have yet to truly acknowledge and make reparations for. But in reality it goes back much further than slavery. It goes back to the day the first white European stepped foot on this land because that is when the genocide of the native populations began. Our country is founded on that genocide. We have never acknowledged that sin and we still don’t. Many are shocked by the blatant racism that exists in our country today. But yet, until we acknowledge the fact that our country was built on someone else’s land we will never be able to successfully extinguish the racism in our country.  I’ll keep going…

“In 1947 the founders of Plimoth Plantation created a museum to honor the 17th-century English colonists who would come to be known to the world as the Pilgrims. In doing so, the founders left out the perspective of the Wampanoag people who had lived on the land for thousands of years. At Plimoth Plantation today, we ask questions about what really happened in the past. We draw from the new research of scholars who study documents, artifacts, homesites, culture, and formerly untapped sources such as the Wampanoag people themselves. We encourage new scholarship that includes multiple perspectives.”

When I read that I wanted to cry. 100 years ago we say we may not have know any better. I guess. But today, how can we not? Today we can know better and thus we must know better. We cannot continue to play ignorant just so we can continue this cultural celebration. What we did to the native peoples is nothing less than what Nazis did in Germany during WWII. Both are examples of the desire to exterminate a people. So I continued to read.

“What  you will read in these pages represents new thinking about the people and events of 1621. This book is just one part of a museum-wide effort to reinterpret the 1621 harvest feast through books, videos, educational materials, and a reenactment that gave birth to these photographs. We invite you to join us here on this shore and view the past from a different perspective.”

Happily, I continued to read this book. I hope you too will reconsider how you teach the next generation about Thanksgiving (and Columbus Day). We can still have our big family and friends meals, turkey and such, Macy’s Day Parades, and give thanks for all that we have. But as a nation we must reflect and ask how we can build a nation, our nation, one where we honor and treat each other with respect and empathy. We certainly can’t do so on a lie. It is time we unearth the lie. While that may be just a first step, it’s a powerful step, that will hopefully open the doors to real acknowledgement and reparation to the people we harmed.

May you enjoy your day of thanks with gratitude and reflection, and by giving thanks to all those who continue to work for peace and justice for all,


About the book: In October of 2000, Plimoth Plantation cooperated with the Wampanoag community to stage an historically accurate reenactment of the 1621 harvest celebration. 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving exposes the myth that this event was the first Thanksgiving and is the basis for the Thanksgiving holiday that is celebrated today. This exciting book describes the actual events that took place during the three days that the Wampanoag people and the colonists came together. The photographs taken by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson capture the spirit of the event and bring it to life. Co-authors Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac worked closely with Plimoth Plantation historians to produce this timely new book that tells the whole story by including the voices of all who were involved.

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