One of the most celebrated yet debatable holidays in the United States is Thanksgiving. There are more children’s books written about this special holiday than there are about any other holiday in the United States.
At schools children are often taught that it is a special day when we honor what happened in 1621, the day when Indians and Pilgrims got together to celebrate a productive harvest and the end of a harsh winter.
I wanted to find answers as to why Thanksgiving seems more important than Christmas in this country. This is what I found.
It was the year of 1620 when the Mayflower, hoping to arrive at the mouth of the Hudson River, where New York City now stands , was set off course by a storm and arrived near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. At the time, many Indian tribes, including the Patuxet, were already living there.
Tisquantum, aka Squanto, was a Patuxet man who became instrumental to the survival of these first English settlers. There are many stories about Squanto and about how he is perceived, both by his fellow Native Americans as well as the English.
One story, told as a Judeo-Christian allegory, parallels Squanto’s life to Joseph’s; the man in the Bible who is sold as a slave by his brothers only to have God turn his misfortunes into blessings and used him as means to save the very family that sold him. Like Joseph, Squanto was kidnapped, stripped away from his freedom and sold as a slave. For many years he endured suffering as a stranger in a strange land before finally having the opportunity to see his country again. Who would’ve known that all those years in captivity in England and learning the culture of his oppressors would come to be Squanto’s weapon and asset in the future?
Another tale about the life and times of Squanto tells of how he used his knowledge of both cultures, the English and the Indians, as a weapon against his own people. Upon returning to his homeland, Squanto supposedly allied with the first English settlers. He taught them how survive in the wilderness and even facilitated a peace treaty between them and the tribes. This tale also recounts how Squanto intimidated the tribes by telling them that if they didn’t do as he said he would make the “plague from the white man” come after them. He was referring to the smallpox disease that the Indians were not immune to; possibly the very same disease that wiped his own tribe.
No one knows where the truth about Squanto’s life lies. Dozens of books purport to be written about him only to tell divergent or conflicting anecdotes. I wonder how different the relationship between Native Americans and Anglos would be today if Squanto would have recorded his amazing journey in a diary.
Would history be any different if Native Americans would have chronicled their accounts just as Europeans explorers have done? Or would it not make any difference at all?
Those are questions I can’t answer. What I do know for certain is that Squanto became one of the first cross-cultural translators, interpreters, and liaisons between the Europeans and the Native Americans. The survival of some of the first English settlers could very well be due solely to Squanto.
Scholars are now shedding light into the evidence of what really happened 400 years ago. What is often taught in grade school, as well as depicted in history books, the picture of pilgrims and Native Americans gathering all in a big feast amid their differences and celebrating together, is now questioned.
If Squanto had left his own written account, the same way the Europeans did, we would be privy to a more balanced historical account about what happened in 1621. Unfortunately this not the case.
It’s amazing to see what different people say when asked what Thanksgiving means to them. Some recite the romanticized story of Native Americans seating content and at peace while sharing wild turkey and yams with the Pilgrims. Others take a more spiritual path, viewing Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on the blessings God brought into their lives. Native Americans do not view or celebrate Thanksgiving the same way.
Amongst the tribes it is a time of mourning for some and a period of remembrance for some. For the majority it is to be comparable to the Holocaust. Most would agree it is a day to remember those who have departed and the injustices they endured. If you’re interested to know if Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving read Dennis W. Zotigh
With over 20,000 books written about Thanksgiving and so much debate about the accuracy of events that happened in 1621, one has to wonder what we’re really celebrating on one of the most popular holidays in the United States.
With so many theories about the true events of the first Thanksgiving, I decided this day should be used as a remembrance of Native American culture. To remember that one seemingly ordinary day the future of these people changed forever. And although some people would choose to look the other way, because it’s too depressing to talk about Native Americans and their stories, I see this series of events through a different lens. I see this celebration should be about what Native Americans have done as a people, what they’ve endured as well as the amazing culture and testimonies that they have to share.
The Jewish community has done an amazing job at making sure the voices, stories, and lesson learned from the Holocaust do not go unnoticed. They continue telling their story, as sad as it might be, until the whole world hears. We should follow similar suit with the Native peoples. If we are being honest, Thanksgiving should be about recognizing Native American culture for their contributions to this country.
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