Our book club is reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. While the book is a fascinating account of relatively new research on the state of the Americas before Columbus and the meeting of Americans and Europeans, I was also struck by Mann’s description of what that harvest celebration we think of as ‘The First Thanksgiving’ between the Pilgrims and the local Indians likely actually included. It was certainly nothing like what we celebrate!
We have created all sorts of traditions that are based more on the ideas of Sarah Josepha Hale, the 19th century editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book and a well known trend setter. According to Elizabeth Armstrong’s article in the Christian Science Monitor in November 2002, the three day harvest festival that occurred in the fall of 1621 included 52 English colonists and 90 Wampanoag Indians. According to Mann’s account, the Indians and their leader Massasoit were likely present to enlist the support of the colonists against a neighboring competing tribe.
A 1999 version of the web site of Plimoth Plantation included in a K-12 curriculum of the state of Wyoming shares details and hypotheses about the development of the Thanksgiving holiday Americans celebrate. A visit to the current web site of Plimoth Plantation reveals significantly more information and tracks the development of the holiday over time. President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November to be a national day of thanksgiving.
As a behavioral health specialist, holidays and how we handle them have always been interesting to me. How they came to be, which aspects of the celebrations we have adopted, and how we incorporate holiday traditions into our own lives speak volumes about us as a culture and as individuals.
In this year when many are beginning to experience recovery from a very difficult economic time, we hope that a community-wide expression of gratitude for the many privileges we share will help us all move past a bitter and hard-fought election cycle.
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