Thanksgiving has been a holiday tradition in the United States for over a century. Every year on the fourth Thursday of November, we gather with our families, enjoy a late-night feast, and watch football. Thanksgiving is often a highlight of the year and is a day filled with joy, love, and thankfulness. However, we never stop and actually think about how this tradition started, and what it quickly became. Why and what are we really celebrating? When one thinks about what Thanksgiving really is, it begs the question: should we even be celebrating this holiday at all?
The mythical origin of the very first Thanksgiving was in 1621. In this story, the Pilgrims joined together with the Wampanoag Native Americans, who had been of great help to the Pilgrims, to enjoy a feast. It was meant as a celebration of the harvest, hence why it happened right at the end of fall, the harvest season. If the story had stopped there, it would have had a perfectly happy ending. But, it doesn’t stop there. Little to none of this mythical “thanksgiving” is true. Moreover, as years and decades passed on, the relationship between Native Americans and colonists continually soured. Disease, enslavement, and war between the two sides saw many Native Americans lose power over the land they rightfully owned. Colonists began to control more and more land, leading up to 1776 when they officially created a country on soil that was not theirs.
Now, more than 200 years later, we continue to celebrate Thanksgiving. Many parts of the day are the same or similar to how people imagine the myth of the very first Thanksgiving all the way back in 1621. It is held at the same time of year; it is still a gathering of families and friends. But, the biggest and most important difference is the disappearance of Native Americans and their culture from the holiday. Had it not been for the Wampanoag teaching the Pilgrims how to forage and farm, the settler-colonists would not have made it through their first winter on the new continent. Now, after centuries of cruelty and mistreatment of Native Americans, what does the holiday mean for us? Should we stop celebrating Thanksgiving altogether?
I would say no. But, that does not mean that we should continue forgetting about Native Americans altogether. They are the reason why the United States of America even exists. Without them, the original pilgrims would have most likely died before making any significant progress in establishing a colony. Native Americans welcomed the pilgrims into their homes, only to be betrayed by the very people they had helped. Now, some 400 years later, the very least we could do is celebrate them on the day dedicated to their generosity.
This celebration can take many forms. Perhaps you join some indigenous people for a feast on Thanksgiving day. Maybe you educate yourself on the actual culture, traditions, and background of a Native American nation. Maybe it is just taking a moment to be genuinely appreciative and thankful for the people who made this entire nation possible. Celebrating Thanksgiving is not inherently bad, but we need to stop forgetting about the indigenous people whom the holiday is meant to celebrate.