On the fourth Thursday of every year, most Americans have a day (or a half-day) off work to feast with family & friends to show gratitude.
However, I am not only an American expat living abroad so I cannot just share the public-school textbook version of the history of this day in America. I was a student of history before I trained to become a teacher, specifically American history. So, I thought a more rounded view of this national holiday was warranted.
Here we go!
This is similar to Canadian Thanksgiving & German Entdankefest, essentially a harvest festival, the highlight of which is a meal consisting of turkey or Ham & fall vegetables. Charity also plays a part as well, usually giving to those less fortunate leading up to Christmas.
Our mainstream American history books all claim that in 1621 colonists at Plymouth & Wampanoag shared their fall harvests, but there was no stuffed Turkey. Prior to this, colonists had struggled to successfully grow food in their new world. It took cooperation and education on behalf of the Native Americans to help the colonists learn to be successful. In reality, it was only the second colony established at that time. Others had literally failed because the colonists to the new world did not know how to successfully grow their crops in the new soil – if the seeds even made it across the ocean. Native stories proclaim this was not a sharing, but rather a contact made for investigative purposes, like a fact-finding mission, as the colonists were ‘aggressive’ toward the local Native Americans.
Previous interactions with the Native Americans resulted in waring & death/murder, the Europeans fought for constant additional space while the Native Americans fought to maintain their established lives. In fact, many Native Americans today do not acknowledge this holiday b/c of the historical devastation brought to their people from colonial settlement, European expansion, & Manifest Destiny. There were hundreds if not millions of Native Americans thriving in North America long before there were explorers or settlers, or even before America was ‘discovered.
This colony is important to American history & folklore as it not only establishes American Thanksgiving, it also establishes a puritanical ethic of work & modesty. It also predicates the NE region as ‘authentically American’ in modern American culture, since it was colonized ‘first’. It is also the foundation for ‘a city on a hill’.
Equally important, it is a Day of Mourning for Native people. There were hundreds if not millions of Native Americans thriving in North America long before there were explorers or settlers, or even before America was ‘discovered. Today there are only 6.6 million (2020) native persons in the USA, or 2% of the total population. It is difficult to say how many native people were living in what is now the United States and Canada as these records were not kept, however, there are general records accounting for how many likely died or were murdered, beginning in 1492.
It wasn’t until the Civil War when President Lincoln’s cabinet (in 1863) felt the American nation needed something to unite it. Yet, it wasn’t federally observed until 1870, on the last Thursday in November. It became a federally paid national holiday in 1875. Finally, President Roosevelt (FDR), in 1942, changed the date to the fourth Thursday in November, not a specific date, annually. It is also often a four-day weekend. The Friday following this Thursday is the start of The Christmas shopping season, also known as ‘Black Friday’.
Find Native Americans and indigenous folks to follow & support on social media.
Ask me for book recommendations to learn more about what I talk about in this post.