Thanksgiving Looking Forward: How We Tell America’s Story

By Tedi Rollins
Elm Staff Writer

Thanksgiving is a holiday known for as much for its symbolism as it is for its food. Families all around the country gather together on the fourth Thursday in November each year to give thanks for everything they have been blessed with in life.

Most Americans think of the first Thanksgiving as the feast that took place in 1621 following the fall harvest. It was attended by Pilgrims and Native Americans to celebrate good fortune and a bountiful first harvest in the colony. The truth is that the event was quite different from the holiday that we know now.

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Melissa Chan of Time magazine said, “There’s no evidence that the 1621 feast was called Thanksgiving, and the event was not repeated for at least a decade, experts say. Still, it is said to be the inspiration behind the now traditional annual gathering and a testament to the cooperation of two groups of people.”

The Thanksgiving tradition continued on through the years, and each subsequent celebration had a new purpose, from celebrating the end of a drought, to celebrating the end of a war. Even though there were similar gatherings interspersed throughout the time period, Thanksgiving was not considered to be an annual event until Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863.

While most citizens of the U.S. observe the holiday, there are many aspects of it that are problematic. The mutual respect between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans during the first Thanksgiving was only a brief moment of peace amidst fighting and massacres. Because of this, many Native Americans view Thanksgiving not as a celebration, but as a day of remembrance for those that were killed.

In an interview with Time magazine, Jacqueline Keeler, who is part of the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota and the Dineh Nation, said, “Thanksgiving tells a story that is convenient for Americans, [but] it’s a celebration of our survival. I recognize it as a chance for my family to come together as survivors, pretty much in defiance.”

The existence of Thanksgiving as a federal holiday idealizes and oversimplifies many parts of the original feast, but it is not necessary to demonize the event in its entirety. As we sit down to our turkey dinners and acknowledge the importance of gratefulness and togetherness we must also consider the areas of history in which we failed to truly unite.

It is natural for traditions to evolve over time. Thanksgiving in present day does not have the same associations as it did in the 1600s or even a few decades ago. Shopping is now considered a major part of the holiday celebration, where it wasn’t before. Maybe as the festivities continue to grow and change, we can begin to incorporate some form of education about the parts of Thanksgiving history that are often ignored, including problems with early treatment of Native Americans.

In this age of consumerism, we could all use a little more thankfulness in our lives. So, regardless of the changes that take place, it is important that we still carry the important message of expressing gratitude for one’s good fortunes each Thanksgiving.


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