The Dark History Of Thanksgiving

Each year on the fourth Thursday in November, Americans gather for a day of feasting, football and family. While today’s Thanksgiving celebrations would likely be unrecognizable to attendees of the original 1621 harvest meal, it continues to be a day for Americans to come together around the table.

Most of us associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast.

The pilgrims did not eat turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie or pecan pie.

The Native Americans and the Pilgrims were at constant war with each other; meaning it was bloodshed not brotherhood that brought these communities together.

The Pilgrims were not just innocent refugees from religious persecution. They were victims of bigotry in England, but some of them were themselves religious bigots by our modern standards.

The Wampanoag Indians were not the “friendly savages” some of us were told about when we were in the primary grades. Nor were they invited out of the goodness of the Pilgrims’ hearts to share the fruits of the Pilgrims’ harvest in a demonstration of Christian charity and interracial brotherhood. The Wampanoag were members of a widespread confederacy of Algonkian-speaking peoples known as the League of the Delaware. For six hundred years they had been defending themselves from my other ancestors, the Iroquois, and for the last hundred years they had also had encounters with European fishermen and explorers but especially with European slavers, who had been raiding their coastal villages. They knew something of the power of the white people, and they did not fully trust them. But their religion taught that they were to give charity to the helpless and hospitality to anyone who came to them with empty hands. Also, Squanto, the Indian hero of the Thanksgiving story, had a very real love for a British explorer named John Weymouth, who had become a second father to him several years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth. Clearly, Squanto saw these Pilgrims as Weymouth’s people. To the Pilgrims the Indians were heathens and, therefore, the natural instruments of the Devil.

A generation later, after the balance of power had indeed shifted, the Indian and White children of that Thanksgiving were striving to kill each other in the genocidal conflict known as King Philip’s War. At the end of that conflict most of the New England Indians were either exterminated or refugees among the French in Canada, or they were sold into slavery in the Carolinas by the Puritans. So successful was this early trade in Indian slaves that several Puritan ship owners in Boston began the practice of raiding the Ivory Coast of Africa for black slaves to sell to the proprietary colonies of the South, thus founding the American-based slave trade.

The idea of the American Thanksgiving feast is a fairly recent fiction. The idyllic partnership of 17th Century European Pilgrims and New England Indians sharing a celebratory meal appears to be less than 120 years-old. And it was only after the First World War that a version of such a Puritan-Indian partnership took hold in elementary schools across the American landscape. We can thank the invention of textbooks and their mass purchase by public schools for embedding this “Thanksgiving” image in our modern minds. It was, of course, a complete invention, a cleverly created slice of cultural propaganda, just another in a long line of inspired nationalistic myths.

Like the drones that most Americans are, they celebrate Thanksgiving with a lavish turkey feast, dressings, Cranberry sauce and the festivities of the day surrounded by family and friends while ignoring the dark past that accompanied the first “day of Thanksgiving” by those who slaughtered the Natives for hundreds of years thereafter.

In total hypocrisy, Americans celebrate the fourth Thursday in November completely insensitive to the current Native Americans whose land they stole and continue to steal to this present day.

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Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation (NTF) has presented the President of the United States with a live turkey and two dressed turkeys in celebration of Thanksgiving. The annual presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey to the President has become a traditional holiday ritual in the nation’s capital, signaling the unofficial beginning of the holiday season and providing the president an opportunity to reflect publicly on the meaning of the Thanksgiving season.

Benjamin Franklin, who proposed the turkey as the official United States’ bird, was dismayed when the bald eagle was chosen over the turkey.

In 2015, more than 233.1 million turkeys were raised. More than 212 million were consumed in the United States. We estimate that 46 million of those turkeys were eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter.

Nearly 88 percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey at Thanksgiving. The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 16 pounds, meaning that approximately 736 million pounds of turkey were consumed in the United States during Thanksgiving in 2015.

Like the misconceptions of Columbus, the truth about Thanksgiving is often left out of children’s education. Turkeys line hallways; happy Pilgrims and Wampanoag are featured in projects and glamorized in stories. Over the years, the real Thanksgiving story that included thievery and death of a people was recreated to tell only a happy story.

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It’s funny how being Pagan and following the wheel of the year was so enlightening to all the real Holidays that religion reworked and stole from Pagan history. It was also through studying History as an adult that I found so many of the real stories that lay hidden from my school books growing up. Domination, wiping out cultures and mass extermination seems to have clouded our history time after time. The further confusion comes, as a Witch, to celebrate Mabon, our Witch’s Thanksgiving back at the Autumn Equinox Sep. 22. By Halloween/Samhain we Witches are celebrating our New Year.

But I absolutely love Holidays and will continue to love the extra Thanksgiving and the extra New Year that the non Pagans celebrate while inserting my Witchy flair and yet hold in my heart the unfairness to so many in history, with the courage and the strength and the honesty with which I look at the injustices today, as well.

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