How Did Thanksgiving Originate? The REAL First Thanksgiving
The First Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving's Origins
When we think of Thanksgiving the image of a family of pilgrims and a family of Native Americans sitting around a table, partaking in a feast of turkey, pumpkin dishes, and a cornucopia of other foods usually pops up. But is this exactly the start of Thanksgiving? Weren't there Thanksgivings or Fall feasts before the First Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and Indians?
Let's take a look at America's past and examine the question "How did Thanksgiving originate" a little closer than a general history book would give us.
The Native Americans' Role in Thanksgiving
In answering the question how did Thanksgiving begin, we can see that the main theme to "Thanksgiving" is giving thanks for what we have. This idea of giving thanks for the earth's bounty, for family, and all that the earth has provided us goes back to ancient harvest festivals that have been performed by the Native Americans for thousands of years. (Harvest festivals are also a huge part of modern day Pagans' holidays.)
But the idea of having a harvest festival and giving thanks or being thankful for the fruits of our labor and the fruits of the earth isn't something that only the Native Americans celebrated, but also the ancient Celtic peoples. What is ironic is that the Pilgrims that came to America by way of England were Puritan in nature and had given up their most-likely ancestral Celtic roots in celebrating the harvest. There is talk that the Church still held some sort of festival for giving thanks for God's gifts sometime in the month of November. But then when they came to Plymouth and met the Native Americans there, giving thanks for the harvest and therefore a type of haPagan rvest festival was (unknowingly to them) reintroduced into their belief or celebratory system.
While most people know Plymouth to be the first site of The First Thanksgiving, many scholars and historians debate this. Some say that the actual First Thanksgiving between the Native Americans and Europeans was held in Saint Augustine, Florida and was between the Native American tribe residing there and the Spanish. Others claim that the First Thanksgiving was held in the state of Virginia. So, as you can see, history is not quite dead-set on the date or location of The true First Thanksgiving. We can only speculate.
What was the role of the Native Americans in the First Thanksgiving (be it in Massachusetts, Virginia, or Florida)? If the First Thanksgiving was indeed at Plymouth, the Native American tribe that gave thanks with the Pilgrims was the Wampanoag tribe. Apparently the Wampanoag tribe was a wandering tribe that moved often, but they were also quite a hospitable tribe and tended to take anyone into their homes with respect and love. This included the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The fact of the matter with the early Pilgrims was that they did not know how to fend for themselves or survive gracefully in the "New World" and truly needed the assistance of the Native peoples of the land. The Wampanoag tribe was one of the few tribes who did indeed assist the settlers with survival skills such as building safe dwellings, cultivating corn, and hunting for deer meat.
So for the immense help that the Native Americans had provided this particular group of settlers in Massachusetts, the Pilgrims held a feast or "festival" to give thanks for the Natives' aid and to give thanks for what they had been provided, including the crop and bounty of the land (of the New World).
Many Foods on Our Thanksgiving Tables are Originally Native American
If we look at the Thanksgiving that we celebrate today, it is quite like the First Thanksgiving. Many of the original foods that the Pilgrims shared with the Native Americans have probably stayed the same. The turkey was sacred to many of the Native American tribes and still remains as a part of the Thanksgiving Day traditional feast. Corn has also been a mainstay and we still use dried ears of corn as Thanksgiving décor around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Pumpkins and gourds are either used in Thanksgiving cooking and/or in Thanksgiving decorations. We can see and experience the First Thanksgiving's elements in every Thanksgiving that we celebrate in America today. Unfortunately, most of us aren't still thankful to the Native American peoples for aiding us in surviving in this new world and also giving up the majority of their land to us. Maybe we should take the time this Thanksgiving to not only answer the question "how did Thanksgiving originate" but to bring back the original gratefulness towards the Natives that the Pilgrims of Plymouth once had.
© 2011 Nicole Canfield