The Dark History of Thanksgiving:  What You Didn't Know About the Day We Celebrate

The Dark History of Thanksgiving: What You Didn't Know About the Day We Celebrate

Sam Ojong ·

 The Real History Of Thanksgiving

the first thanksgiving 1621


At this time of year the real history of thanksgiving is not what we hear about. It’s not uncommon to hear the story of the first Thanksgiving—a quaint meal in which New England settlers and Native Americans came together in peace, giving thanks for their harvests and one another. The story is often told as a feel-good moment when a tense and challenging period of American history ends happily. However, many people know that this probably wasn’t what actually happened back in the 17th century; instead, we can assume that events were much more sinister. In fact, for most Native Americans reading this right now, the idea of celebrating a day in which their people were almost wiped out by colonists from Europe is probably deeply offensive. The truth about Thanksgiving can seem complicated at times and even contradictory; there are many different interpretations of what happened all those years ago. But no matter which part of history you look at, we can say with certainty that this national holiday wasn’t nearly as nice as we make it out to be today.



The run-up to the first Thanksgiving

Before Europeans arrived in America, the land was settled by a large number of different native people, each with their own distinct language and culture. While there were some wars between different tribes, it was nowhere near the scale of the violence brought by Europeans. Despite this, the real history of thanksgiving day is one where the Europeans were misled by their own biases into seeing the Native Americans as savage, primitive people. This allowed early settlers to justify taking their land, resources, and even the lives of Native Americans whenever they wanted to. After all, they were just “doing God’s work” by murdering “savages.” Early on, some Native Americans did try to get along with Europeans. One example is Chief Massasoit, who actually invited the Plymouth settlers to a meal in friendship. However, the settlers didn’t have any interest in peace. They invited the Native Americans to a meal—but with the intention of slaughtering them so curious minds can be forgiven when they questions why is it now a national day..



What actually happened at the first Thanksgiving?

This is the bit that most people are familiar with. The story goes that Native Americans (the wampanoag tribe) celebrated a harvest with New England settlers. While there was some tension at first, both sides supposedly put aside their differences and came together in friendship. However, the real history of thanksgiving is different to the  version of events most people are familiar with. The settlers were actually breaking an earlier peace treaty with the Native Americans. They’d already been given permission to build a settlement in what is now Massachusetts, but they ignored this and kept right on expanding. Once the Native Americans tried to stop them, the settlers responded with violence. This led to a full-blown war that lasted almost a decade.

true story of thanksgiving massacre



Problems with the story of the first Thanksgiving

The Native Americans weren’t the peaceful people they’re often made out to be in this story. No group has ever been completely peaceful, and many Native Americans had actually been attacking early European settlements for years. The difference is that Europeans had guns, while the native peoples didn’t. The settlers also had a very warped view of Native Americans. They assumed that the Native Americans had no religion and viewed them as one big, barbaric group—despite the fact that there were many different tribes each with their own languages, cultures, and religions. However, when the settlers began to get a taste of their own medicine, they spun the story so that it was the Native Americans who were savage and barbaric. They even went so far as to make up false stories about Native American rituals and ceremonies to paint them as evil.



Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving today

The truth is that we don’t actually know what the Native Americans who were living in America at the time actually thought about Thanksgiving. They probably didn’t give it much thought at all; it was just another day. But as Europeans began to take over the country, the real history of thanksgiving is that they did everything they could to paint Native Americans as savage, uncivilized people who were no better than animals. They wanted to justify taking their land, so they told stories about “savages” who couldn’t appreciate the value of things like religion and farming. This allowed Europeans to view their own behavior as moral and justifiable, even when it was really just immoral and unjustifiable. This is why the settlers initiated hostilities against the Native Americans and then portrayed themselves as the “good guys.” They wanted to create a narrative in which they were the ones who brought religion to the “savages” and were responsible for turning them into “good” people who appreciated things like farming.



Can we find a good reason to celebrate when we know the real history of thanksgiving?

If we want to find a good reason to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, we need to separate the myth from the reality and look at the story for what it really was. The myth that’s been created around Thanksgiving is almost like a fairytale in these united states; the reality is a dark and violent tale that’s not nearly as nice. If we want to celebrate Thanksgiving for three days or more, we’re better off celebrating the rich culture and diverse people of America today—not the events of the past.

the first thanksgiving 1621



The real problem with celebrating Thanksgiving

The real problem with celebrating Thanksgiving is that we’re celebrating the wrong things. We’re celebrating an event that really wasn’t as nice as we’ve been led to believe. Instead of celebrating the myth, we should be celebrating the Native Americans and European settlers who did try to get along despite everything that was being done to divide them. We should be celebrating the people who tried to bring peace instead of war. By celebrating the real story of Thanksgiving, we can actually use the myth to do something good. Thanksgiving is a great time to remind ourselves of our commonalities as Americans and focus on what makes us great as a country.



Wampanoag Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a great holiday. It gives us the chance to reflect on what we have to be thankful for and to appreciate those around us. It’s also a great opportunity to learn more about America’s history. Unfortunately, the myth of Thanksgiving has overshadowed the reality of the day. We need to be careful that we don’t create a myth of our own—turning the dark history of Thanksgiving into something nice and happy when it wasn’t. Instead, what has happened is this day has developed a life and momentum all of its own at this time of year, making it more of a of a commercial endeavour of "beat the jones'" rather than a remembrance day of a turning point in this country's rich history. So in typical American fashion there are few things associated with Thanksgiving that have gone well past the norm.

Thanksgiving Traditions That Have Gone Too Far: The Stuff We Should Stop Doing

the first thanksgiving 1621


There are countless rituals that we take part in as a result of being a member of the human race. Some of these traditions are universal and practiced by just about every culture on earth. Others are specific to certain regions or cultures, with some also being quite localized. For example New York city festivities and its holiday season is a thing to behold and if you do not know what I am talking about, it will be well worth the visit. In this post, we’ll be looking at some of the most common thanksgiving day traditions that have gone too far -- the stuff that you should stop doing if you want to enjoy this holiday season on a more relaxed and personal level and not have to send guests home. If you’re ready to give your "traditional" thanksgiving traditions a makeover, then keep reading for more details.


Don’t over-commit during the holiday season.

The thing that makes appreciating the history of Thanksgiving special  is that it occurs only once a year. Because the rest of the year is so packed with celebrations, holidays, and special occasions, it’s important to keep things simple and low-key during the Thanksgiving season. That doesn’t mean that there should be no celebrating whatsoever. Instead, you should take advantage of the fact that this is one of the only times of the year when everyone in your social circle is available at the same time - the perfect turkey day. Celebrate with your friends and relatives, but do so in a way that’s relaxed and low-pressure. Don’t try to cram too many events, activities, or get-togethers into the short space of time that you have with all of your loved ones. Only over-commit yourself to the extent that you can handle with ease and grace. And above all, take the time to enjoy yourself and relax with the people whom you’re lucky enough to be spending the holidays with.


Stop hosting an overly-formal sit-down dinner.

Many people who host Thanksgiving dinner are inclined to throw a formal and sit-down dinner. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it can be a bit much for most guest if the meal is accompanied by too many rules and expectations. For example, some families have a tradition of serving certain dishes at the table and others in the kitchen. Other families have very strict rules about what is to be offered at the table and what will only be eaten in the kitchen. For some, this makes for an enjoyable and festive gathering. Others, however, may find this tradition to be unnecessary, outdated, and even a bit pretentious. There’s nothing wrong with hosting a formal Thanksgiving meal, but you should consider the needs and preferences of your guests before you go all out with the napkins and table settings.

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Don’t pressure your friends and family to eat things they don’t like

One of the most famous and beloved Thanksgiving foods is the sweet potato casserole. This dish is often served at Thanksgiving celebrations and is a near-essential side item on the menu at many family gatherings. If you are one of the people serving sweet potato casserole at your table, you might notice that not everyone eats it. In fact, some people may not have any interest in consuming this dish. Although it’s a very common dish and it’s served at many Thanksgiving celebrations, it might not be something that everyone at your table is eager to eat. People who don’t like sweet potato casserole, for example, may feel pressured to eat it because it’s served at the table. And people who do like it may feel uncomfortable serving themselves a second serving because others may be watching. People should be able to eat at your Thanksgiving gathering without feeling pressured to consume something that they don’t like -- even if this dish is a mainstay for the holiday.


Don’t play music that only elders enjoy

This may sound a little extreme, but some people turn on traditional music at the Thanksgiving table. It’s important to note that there is an enormous difference between traditional and classical music. Traditional music is often very old, holds sentimental value, and is associated with specific time periods. Classical music refers to some of the most important pieces of music ever written. A lot of classical music was composed during or before the 18th century, when musical styles were very different from what we hear today. If the music playing at your table is from a bygone era, it might not appeal to everyone in the room. And if it’s classical music, it might be too intense for people to appreciate while they’re eating. And if you’re hosting a more casual gathering, it might not be appropriate to play classical music at all.

true story of thanksgiving massacre


Don’t feel obligated to invite every family member

Some people feel very strongly about inviting every single member of their immediate and extended family to the Thanksgiving gathering. Other people are more selective about who they invite. And yet others simply don’t want to invite any family members at all. Regardless of which category you fall into, you should never feel obligated to invite every family member. While there is nothing wrong with a little friendly competition with the neighbour to see who has the longest guest list. You are in control of your home, your family, and your holiday gathering. It’s your party, and you can invite who you want -- and tell the rest of your family that they aren’t invited if you’d prefer not to have them at your celebration to share your delicious home made recipe of pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. Whatever your reason for limiting the guest list at your Thanksgiving gathering, you should never feel bad about it. You can always extend an invitation and then refuse to feel guilty if you aren’t accepting everyone who RSVP’s in the affirmative.



Now that you know a bit more about the history of thanksgiving and  which traditions we should stop doing during this national thanksgiving season, it's time to enjoy the holiday with your loved ones! Yes, celebrate with plenty of food, fun games, and laughter but don't spend too much as you might miss out on the black friday sales too. As you enjoy your time with friends and family, make sure to keep these things in mind so your celebration is as enjoyable as possible for everyone involved. Keep these traditions in mind so that you and your loved ones can enjoy the best Thanksgiving celebration yet!


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