What do you really know about the history of Thanksgiving?


Thanksgiving is a holiday where families all come together on the fourth Thursday of November to give thanks to each other and feast on a stuffed turkey or watch football. Numerous students at West are excited about Thanksgiving because they will get a five-day weekend. Some of the teachers at West are probably excited for the Black Friday sales. Most students were told the story of the first Thanksgiving when we were in elementary school, but the question still remains: Is that the true story of the first Thanksgiving? 

In elementary schools, teachers told kids that Pilgrims and Native Americans came together and had a feast.  What really happened on this day? According to The New York Times, it states that textbooks and children’s books are inaccurate.  In 1961, the Pilgrims had a three-day gathering to celebrate that season’s harvest.  Members of the Wampanoag tribe attended the celebration.   This is the event that has been attributed to the holiday of Thanksgiving.  

The New York Times goes on to say, “claiming [this event] was the ‘first Thanksgiving’ isn’t quite right either as both Native American and European societies had been holding festivals to celebrate successful harvests for centuries.”  The newspaper then presents an opposing viewpoint that the first Thanksgiving might represent a massacre in 1637 of the Pequot people during the Pequot War.   Kate Sheehan, a spokesperson for Plimoth Plantation, as quoted in The New York Times article, said that this is “not accurate to say it was the basis for our modern Thanksgiving.”

Back to the first event of origin, The New York Times said, “The most common misconception is that the Pilgrims extended an invitation to the Native Americans for helping them reap the harvest. The truth of how they all ended up feasting together is unknown.”  The newspaper continued saying, “The deadly conflicts that came after [the feast], though, created an undercurrent that is glossed over [in our modern teachings of the event].”

In 1863, while Abraham Lincoln was president, he declared that Thanksgiving shall now be an Official holiday in the U.S.

The media production company Cut, created the following video, One Word Cut, where it says some Native Americans describe Thanksgiving as the word “sadness” or even “terror.” Some Native Americans in the video say they do celebrate this holiday and try not to think about what it really represents, while other Native Americans tell stories about what their family lost on that day.

Thanksgiving Facts

Websites like HistoryExtra, the official website for BBC History Magazine

  • Thanksgiving was not an official holiday until Abraham Lincoln had became president 
  • Since 1989, with President George H.W. Bush, each year, the President of the U.S. pardons a turkey which they hand-pick 
  • Turkey was not the first thing on the menu, other birds of choice such as ducks, chicken, and geese were served
  • The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924
  • About 4.6 million turkeys are cooked on Thanksgiving 
  • Many Americans come in to watch football at this day 

Every holiday has a positive side to it, but there can also be some negative impacts on it as well. Sometimes we should rethink what are celebrating and why we celebrate it. The fashion magazine company, Vogue, made a video called Teen Vogue, and according to this video, Native Americans take the time to remember their elders who lost their lives during the time of the first Thanksgiving. Next time we celebrate Thanksgiving, we should think about the complicated history behind this holiday.