SAN DIEGO: On Thanksgiving Day this year, a majority of Americans will partake in various activities to celebrate the historic holiday. Celebrations usually involve a hearty meal of one sort or another. The centerpiece is the food (and oftentimes football). However, many families of faith will still express gratitude for the blessings they received during the year. The original purpose for of celebrating this traditional holiday.
Yet, many good celebrants are unaware that a central peace between the Native Indians and the Pilgrims existed as the foundation for the event now referred to as the “First Thanksgiving.”
A First Thanksgiving of Peace
This reality of a peace treaty is not taught in United States history courses. Neither is it taught by Christian historians or ministers. Christians focus on the first “true” Thanksgiving that took place in 1623. Besides, what does it matter in the midst of the mashed potatoes, turkey and pumpkin pie?
As Americans conjure up visions of their favorite holiday foods in getting ready for the day of feasting, what does the original significance of this celebration have to do with it?
The original significance of a great historic event is often diminished over time.
With regard to Thanksgiving, thoughts of Pilgrims and Native Indians are easily dismissed and overshadowed by the Patriots and Redskins. Pilgrims and Native Indians are among the mothballs of history, having lost any genuine relevance. Nevertheless, the “First Thanksgiving” had more to do with two diverse groups of people enjoying something much more valuable than wild turkey and venison.
Today the original celebration has been forgotten or has been romanticized to mythical proportions since the initial 1621 event. Reality often takes a backseat to the mythology that encroaches over time. And, historical events often fade into the shadows of the past, as the actual people involved and the real events that occurred become distorted. And, although it was the Pilgrims who put the facts down on paper for the historical record, the “First Thanksgiving” had more to do with the Wampanoag Indians than with the Pilgrims.
And the event was really more of an Indian harvest festival than a formal European religious ceremony of “Thanksgiving.” Yet, the significance is monumental.
The event Americans remember as the First Thanksgiving is a historical event. If people could understand the significance of a broader framework, it would provide even greater meaning to this simple beginning. In essence, the event could be viewed as a celebration of the harvest.
It can also be seen as a celebration of friendship between two diverse groups of human beings. Two distinct cultures, two different races, with different religious beliefs, and despite the absence of a broad-based commonly shared language.
Is that not significant in light of the existing racial tensions in contemporary America in 2019?
Is that not significant in light of the political polarization in the United States that exists in this new millennium?
Something deeper that occurred in the Pilgrim realm in the Autumn of 1621.
What shows up on the surface of history is that two culturally diverse, racially different peoples gathered together in a three-day celebration. The underlying foundation was forged by a willingness to get along in the midst of their shared experience of surviving in the midst of severe environmental conditions. But, an even deeper basis or foundation was the willingness to get along despite all the differences or obstacles.
Although the First Thanksgiving has been scrutinized, marginalized, and criticized through numerous narratives and perspectives, one thing is clear: leaders on both sides of the cultural divide wanted to establish and maintain peaceful relations between the two groups. This event took place in history due to the willingness of broad-minded, and open-hearted leaders on both sides of the cultural divide. Additionally, blended in with this will of the leaders for peace was the willingness of the members of each community to honor leadership.
Could this deeper foundation for friendship not provide a great deal of hope in the midst of a divided America at Thanksgiving time in 2019?
At the heart of Thanksgiving
Although the event was quite simple, it likely had more to do with internal reality such as compassion and kindness within the realm of the human heart than what serious academics would be comfortable in acknowledging.
The First Thanksgiving would have been a most extraordinary affair as it would have marked the first time that the Indians would have celebrated a harvest with “unusual” humans from a place across the ocean.
The Wampanoag probably understood very little of the Pilgrim’s religion and solemn Christian manners of worship.
However, their sachem, Massasoit, had been willing to help the English through the efforts of Tisquantum (Squanto), and had accepted an invitation from the new governor, William Bradford, to come to a meal to offer the Pilgrim’s gratitude for their assistance and friendship. In reality, the event kept building and unfolding, and the people kept eating. Eventually, the feasting lasted for three full days.
To more fully appreciate the original Thanksgiving, one needs to realize that in this time, a great feast lasting three days could not have been shared without some level of cordial relations between the people. It is not difficult to ascertain that at the heart of this harvest festival were reciprocal gestures from both sides needed to generate some compelling friendship.
This is one essential reason why the deeper meaning behind the First Thanksgiving is crucial to the world we live in right now.
In America in 2019, what diverse gatherings of people could gather together for three days?
Could members of extended families even tolerate being around one another for a full three days? Yet, the emphasis here is on diverse groups of human beings: two distinct cultures, two different races, honoring different religious beliefs, and somewhat limited in intercommunication despite a commonly shared language. Such an event in this day would be considered amazing because it would require people to temporarily abandon their “comfort zones” or their “safe spaces.”
Historical records show a period of more than 40 years of peace between the English colonists known as the Separatists and the Wampanoag Indians before their original friendship eroded and war exploded being initiated by the hot-headed son of Massasoit, once his father passed away.
That this friendship ended in tragedy should not really be the primary takeaway.
Neither should the original celebration be romanticized and viewed in mythical terms, nor should it fade into obscurity.
The First Thanksgiving will have occurred 400 years ago in 2021; yet, this truly unique American holiday still holds great meaning for families and friends and friendship on a broader level.
Many older Americans, to one degree or another, still remember simple stories of this gathering. The feasting of the Pilgrims and Naative Indians. Nevertheless, the original celebration need not be viewed as a myth. Critical ingredients of the First Thanksgiving were families and friends centered upon friendship and willing minds and hearts intending to secure harmonious relations.
Thanksgiving still serves as a foundation for the pursuit of such happiness in 2019.
Whether good people take advantage of such an opportunity is in their power. Friendships in the 1620s may have more to do with America’s birth as a nation than many may realize. Friendships forged in the 2020s may have much to do with America’s re-birth as a beacon of hope for such a community of heart within the world. Happy Thanksgiving to all who are willing to make it more meaningful!