The Dark Side of Thanksgiving – The All American Holiday

Today is Thanksgiving, an American holiday. While we have been learning about Swedish Christmas holidays, let’s take a step back to turkey day. As a Swede or any other national for that matter, you may be wondering what is the history of Thanksgiving. Besides being the most awesome holiday of the year, where people can gorge on sweet potatoes and turkey, Thanksgiving is America’s biggest family holiday.

How Did the Pilgrims and Indians celebrate the First Thanksgiving?

  • It is celebrated in Canada (unrelated, it’s a pure harvest holiday- thanks to Jen for pointing this out), Grenada (completely unrelated), and the Netherlands (when the Pilgrims passed through Leiden on the way to the New World).
  • It was not until 1941 that Thanksgiving became a federal holiday (ie. red day)
  • The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in the Virginia Colony in 1619 by the colonists who settled in Berkeley, Virginia (right outside Jamestown). Few years later, most were killed and remaining retreated back to the secured areas of Jamestown.
  • The official first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans, the Wampanoag Indians, at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1621.
  • The pilgrims did not eat turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie or pecan pie. What a bummer!
  • Venison and fowl were on the menu as foods for the first Thanksgiving. Yum yum.
  • Thanksgiving was celebrated in Dec 1777 according to documents from the Continental Congress. George Washington and John Adams continued the tradition, naming an official day for Thanksgiving.
  • Thomas Jefferson did not hold Thanksgiving.
  • But Lincoln did during the Civil War and it was after 1861 that Thanksgiving became a yearly celebration.
  • The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started i 1924 by Macy’s employees.  They walked from 145Street in Harlem to 34th street in downtown Manhattan to the flagship Macy’s store. You can watch the archive of the parade at Earthwatch.  (this is my favorite part of the day, watching the Snoopy and Kermit floats and singers and dancers :) )
  • By 1933 more than 1 million people lined the Thanksgiving Day Parade route.  This year, more than 3 million spectators.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Let’s turn this upside down now…

But, Thanksgiving is not all it’s let out to be. The history behind this holiday is shrouded in controversy, propaganda and myths. Howard Zinn, one of America’s most famous historians and the author of A People’s History of the United States, writes that Thanksgiving is not all peachy peachy. It was during the early 1600s that the Native Americans and the Pilgrims were at constant war with each other; meaning it was bloodshed not brotherhood that brought these communities together.

Around 1621 the Pilgrims had another massive crop failure and it was thanks to this that the local Indians shared their dinner with the Pilgrims. Obviously, it is not the song and dance most stories say. Remember, American history with the Indians is fraught with terror, genocide, war, and deceptive practices with regards to treaties.

Pumpkin Bread

This year when you sit down at the table for Thanksgiving and everyone is giving thanks, think about how this holiday started. And think how many lives were lost in vanity.

Howard Zinn’s Interview with Tavis Smily, National Public Radio, Link
Audio Text, here.

Scott Berkun, Debunking Thanksgiving Myth. Link.

6 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Thanksgiving – The All American Holiday”

  1. Canada’s Thanksgiving isn’t anything to do with the history of American’s Thanksgiving and so is closer to Grenada’s unrelated denotation. At this time of year Canadians are getting ready for all kinds of winter holiday celebrations, to many to name don’t want to leave any out. Thanksgiving is in October and has alot to do with the fact its just harvest time, November is Remeberance day, so by now all theThanksgiving feasting is a memory and planning starts for December holidays.

  2. Thanks Jen for the correction; I fixed it in the text. It makes more sense that Thanksgiving is for harvest than some cock and bull about Indians and Pilgrims making friends.

  3. I guess we cannot have Thanksgiving without remembering the Indian’s contribution. Our ancestors stole their land, then ate their food when hungry.
    The Indian people gave this country more than can be repaid. My gratitude and prayers go to these people that have been victimized beyond belief.
    I actually read where Hitler used the US to take over the people as a model to take over the world.

  4. Pingback: Happy Thanksgiving
  5. I am eternally sorry for how we re-paid the Indians for their original acts of kindness. However, I am eternally grateful for the holiday that has resulted from those early interactions. Americans today owe everything to the American Indians and their generosity and knowledge. Hence, the idea of “Thanksgiving.”

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