We all got fed the Pilgrims and Indians myth back in kindergarten, right? And every year of grade school following. It’s a beautiful image: European colonists sitting down with Native Americans. Breaking bread. Eating corn. Coexisting harmoniously. The little Indian children played with the Puritan children. Dogs and cats were living together. It was a beautiful day: that first Thanksgiving.
Except that never actually happened.
The real story
What really happened on “the first Thanksgiving” (which, by the way, was not in November) is a completely different story. It was 1637 when Governor John Winthrop declared a day of thanks to recognize the colonial soldiers who had just returned safely from massacring about 700 Indians. That included women and children.
Knowing our cherished holiday arose out of a mass genocide, should we even celebrate Thanksgiving?
What Thanksgiving should mean to us
I say yes. Thanksgiving is one of the few times in the year when we actually take a moment to think about everything we’re grateful for. (Or at least, some of us do that). The holiday is also a time for getting together with your family and eating good food. Now, I don’t care how this stupid Thanksgiving thing got started: there’s nothing bad about expressing gratitude and eating good food with your family.
But when a kid asks how Thanksgiving got started, let’s not feed them the sugary myth we learned from our parents and teachers when we were children. Fabricating history brings dangerous consequences.
However – even if it is false – there’s something about that story we’d do well to remember. At some point, someone had a vision of pilgrims and Indians sitting down together and breaking bread. Maybe they wanted it to be true so badly they started telling other people about it. Can you imagine what the colonial history of American might have been like if that story about the first Thanksgiving actually did happen? Even though we know it’s not true, don’t we all want it to be?
What if we decided to make it a true story? We can’t go back and rewrite the past. But maybe it’s not too late to change the future. So think about that this Thanksgiving. Then maybe we can finally celebrate the day as it should be celebrated.