Thanksgiving Unveiled: Delving into the Dark History Behind the Holiday

Thanksgiving is slowly approaching. And while this may be a beloved holiday for you, that’s filled with turkey, pie, and fun conversations with your loved ones — it hasn’t always been that way. This family holiday has a past that isn’t all about giving thanks and stuffing ourselves with delicious food. And even though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come together with your family and celebrate, you should still have some knowledge about the dark history of Thanksgiving. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to also embrace a different side of it. So let’s explore it.

The First Thanksgiving: A Tale of Survival

The story begins in 1620 when a group of English Separatists, known as the Pilgrims, set sail on the Mayflower to escape religious persecution. After a harrowing journey, they arrived in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. Faced with harsh winters and unfamiliar terrain, they struggled to survive. In November 1621, after their first successful harvest, the Pilgrims celebrated with a feast. They invited the Wampanoag Native Americans, who had helped them learn to cultivate the land. This feast is often referred to as the “First Thanksgiving” and is seen as a symbol of unity and gratitude.

The Darker Side: Conflicts and Loss

While the First Thanksgiving is often romanticized, it’s essential to acknowledge that the arrival of European settlers marked the beginning of a series of conflicts with Native American tribes. The relationship between the newcomers and indigenous peoples was fraught with tension and violence. The introduction of new diseases, such as smallpox, devastated Native American populations who had no immunity. This tragic loss of life is a somber chapter in the history of European colonization in the Americas.

Thanksgiving’s Transformation: From Harvest to National Holiday

Thanksgiving as we know it today wasn’t celebrated nationwide until Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863. It was during the Civil War, and Lincoln called for a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Over time, Thanksgiving evolved to include parades, such as the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and football games. These modern traditions have become integral parts of the holiday for many Americans.


Reckoning with the Past: A National Conversation

In Plymouth, Massachusetts, since 1970, members of the United American Indians of New England gather each Thanksgiving to observe a “National Day of Mourning.” They use this day to honor Native ancestors and raise awareness about the struggles Native communities still face. In recent years, there has been a growing movement to promote awareness and reconciliation. Many people and communities have taken steps to acknowledge the indigenous peoples on whose land they reside. Land acknowledgments and educational initiatives are becoming more common.

Kanita Bajrami

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