Thursday, November 15, 2007

The truth about turkey

Yesterday Peyton made a charming bracelet at school to tell the tale of the first Thanksgiving. He told the story so well and was only slightly embarrassed when he continued to call the Indians “aliens”. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the pilgrims brought a scourge of smallpox to the Indians and committed other horrible crimes in the name of religion.

Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Our modern celebrations date back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them "Pilgrims" until the 1870s.

Plymouth Rock achieved status only in the nineteenth century, when some enterprising residents of the town moved it down to the water so its significance as the "holy soil" the Pilgrims first touched might seem more plausible.

The most striking reality surrounding the Pilgrims is that the Eastern coastline of America had been in contact with foreigners for about 100 years before the establishment of the Plymouth colony. A year before colonists arrived, smallpox introduced by these contacts had wiped out the Wampanoag village that the Pilgrims settled. Pilgrims were able to survive their first winter partially because of guidance by the natives and because they dug up the deceased Wampanoags to eat the corn offerings in the graves.

Throughout the nation, elementary school children still enact Thanksgiving every fall as our national origin myth, complete with Pilgrim hats made of construction paper and Indian braves with feathers in their hair. Should we teach these truths about Thanksgiving? Or, like our textbooks, should we look the other way?


  1. Bah-hum-bug! Really though, you must be one of my kindred spirits! :)

  2. Do you think people actually want the truth?
    Well, I do, but I'm a freak of nature.

  3. I like the "idea" of thanksgiving rather than the history involving it. I've always known it to be a load of crap and choose to utilize it as a day of thanks. It sucks that a lot of our history revolves around scandal (ie. Columbus). Thanks for sharing!

  4. i like the idea of thanksgiving as well. it has turned more into christthanksmasgiving, but what do you do? i must not have paid a lot of attention in history class anyways because you just schooled me in that subject. thanks! :)

  5. I'd rather know the truth, I'm not a big thanksgiving person. Good luck with the text books, they do do their best at keeping the white man look good.

  6. I guess I really don't know much about the "real" truths of Thanksgiving. Sad, seeing I'm a teacher, huh? (luckily... certified only k-5 so they probably don't need to know the gruesome stuff HAHA!)

    Next time we get together you'll have to fill me in on the details! And... what about Columbus? I hated History/Social Studies in school- I have no idea how I passed. I'm not sure I even know what the schools taught us about those events HAHA! All I remember... 1492 Columbus sailed teh Ocean Blue. PFFFTT!!!

  7. Oh, and... like Michelle, I like the "idea" of Thanksgiving regardless of what really happened... just a day to celebrate thanks. However, shuffling from family to family... HATE IT. I'm writing a post about it today.

  8. It really does suck that a great deal of American history is based on lies. I think kids should know the truth, but what do I know? :) I do love Thanksgiving and I choose to use it as a day of remembering how wonderful my life is even though sometimes I think it's horrible.


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