Thanksgiving story more myth than history





Any graduate of an American elementary school could recite a pretty good rendition of the first Thanksgiving. Common knowledge cites that Pilgrims and Indians came together to celebrate the settlers’ first harvest in the New World with a feast. Subsequently, Americans have celebrated the holiday every year by eating themselves silly and watching “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” the Macy’s parade and football on TV.

What most kids learn in school, though, has little to do with fact or history. Thanksgiving is more of an invented holiday, a la Valentine’s Day, than second-grade teachers let on.

The holiday itself wasn’t created until 1863, and the Thanksgiving story was later developed as a way to teach immigrants about “Americanism.”

With the day of gorging and subsequent door-buster sales drawing near, it’s time to debunk some of the myths of Thanksgiving and see what the country is actually celebrating.

MYTH: The English settlers at Plimoth Plantation (“Plimoth” is the original spelling of the community’s name) hosted the First Thanksgiving, a holiday the Pilgrims brought with them from England in 1621, and it’s been celebrated ever since.

FACT: According to the History Channel Web site (www.history.com), both the English and the Wampanoag tribe feasted with harvest festivals before the “first Thanksgiving.” Unaffiliated harvest festivals were celebrated sporadically afterward in New England, and by George Washington and his American troops in the Revolutionary War, but Thanksgiving wasn’t proclaimed a national holiday until the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the holiday as an attempt to bolster national unity.

MYTH: The Pilgrims invited the Indians to share their harvest.

FACT: Actually, they did share. The fact that both groups had a harvest, though, was due to the kindness of the Wampanoag Indians and the Patuxet Indian named Squanto who had been taken in by the Wampanoag after his village was decimated by disease. The English settlers were ill-prepared for their errand into the wilderness and would likely have starved without help, according to many scholars. Also, no evidence exists to explain why the Indians came to the feast, so it can only be assumed that they were invited....



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