This holiday does not have as friendly a history as many people believe. Quite the contrary: the dark history of Thanksgiving is surrounded by tales of blood, brutality and slaughter.
We all know that Thanksgiving is an American holiday meant to celebrate and be grateful for our blessings and the friendship of others. What many ignore, however, is that behind this seemingly joyous occasion lies a dark story full of conflict, blood, and genocide.
The origins of Thanksgiving, like with most other traditional festivities, are rooted in old pagan rites. The holiday has its earliest source in ancient customs found throughout the globe that allocated a day of giving thanks for a successful harvest and the fortunes or blessings of the previous year. More specifically, however, it is often said that the current American tradition of Thanksgiving dates back to the establishment of the Plymouth Colony in what today is Massachusetts, in 1620.
Problems with the official story
Most schools teach that Thanksgiving was born when some English religious dissenters, the pilgrims, were struggling to settle in Plymouth and were warmly received by friendly, local Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe, who taught them how to survive in the New World. To celebrate their success and to honor each other, everyone got together and threw an affectionate feast in which the pilgrims showed their gratitude. That sounds like a lovely story! But, it falls way short of showing the whole picture.
As we mentioned before, celebrations meant to give thanks for the harvesting season (which mostly fall around the same dates) were plentiful and varied much before the pilgrim story, and it’s hard to pinpoint a single event as the actual birth of the contemporary version of the holiday. Other settlers in Virginia celebrated their arrival with an annual Thanksgiving day since 1619, for example. Decades before, some Spanish settlers in the colonies got together yearly with the Seloy tribe for a friendly feast. Yet others believe Thanksgiving truly began when, in 1637, Massachusetts colony governor John Winthrop declared a day to give thanks for the fact that colonial soldiers had recently slaughtered over seven hundred members of the Pequot tribe, including women and children, in Connecticut.
This is not a history of friendship
It is fairly well-documented that the English, and later Americans, didn’t in fact get along with their native neighbors. Actually, that’s an understatement. Native Americans were driven out of their land, hunted and virtually exterminated by the settlers during the centuries following the latter’s arrival, so it’s hardly surprising that the story surrounding Thanksgiving involves a bloody conflict.
Though it is true that initially the Plymouth settlers held rather good relations with the Wampanoag tribe—in fact, they had an official alliance against the French and other rivals—, this friendship eventually eroded. Little by little, the colonists of Plymouth, though indebted to the Wampanoag, took over their land, straining the locals’ way of life. If that was not enough, disease, spread by the newcomers, decimated the native population.
The Sad Truth: King Philip’s War
After enduring much oppression and injustice, a new leader rose to power among the Wampanoag. Metacomet, son of Massasoit, knew his people had had enough, and was willing to fight back. Known by the English as “King Philip,” the new leader ordered raids against the colonies after many of his men were executed for murdering a Punkapoag interpreter.
In 1675 the conflict led to a calamitous, all-out war. And the consequences, surely enough, were catastrophic.
On top of famine and disease, raids grew increasingly common. Abductions, slaughter, razing, and pillaging became everyday affairs, and on both sides the casualties were high. But whereas the colonists had the privilege of relocating to more fortified settlements, the Wampanoag were simply forced to leave their villages and flee to distant regions.
On August 12, 1676, Metacomet was returning home after a failed attempt to recruit allies in New York. A group of rangers under the command of Captain Benjamin Church had been hunting him for a while, and when he was traveling through the Miery Swamp in Bristol, he was finally shot dead. His body was quartered and hung from trees, and his head was mounted on a pike at the entrance of Plymouth, where for over twenty years it served as a warning for those who would rise against the conquering ambition of the colonies. The chief’s wife and nine-year-old son were subsequently sold into slavery. In the end of what has become known as “King Philip’s War,” colonists lost around 30% of their people, while nearly half of the Native American population was annihilated. A heavy toll indeed.
Thanksgiving as an ode to immigration
To say Native Americans suffered greatly with the arrival of ambitious conquerors is putting it mildly. Their homes were obliterated, their way of life was basically destroyed, and their community was massacred. There are no merits to this colonial genocide other than a tale of warning against the greed of a technologically superior civilization immigrating into exploitable land, where vulnerable communities have little chance against such foreign power. If there’s anything to learn from this tale, it’s that immigration by itself can be a great thing: the problem arises when those who pretend to settle in a new land are so greedy and powerful that they will do anything to get what they unduly want.
Be that as it may, Thanksgiving is, at its core, an ode to the wonders of migration, of human kindness and mutual friendship. Even more than celebrating the impersonal fortune of a good harvest, American Thanksgiving is about celebrating humanity itself. After all and above anything else, it intrinsically commemorates immigrants and immigration as a whole. Now more than ever, we must keep that in mind.
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BY: Oliver G. Alvar
This Is What The Pilgrims Actually Ate During The First Thanksgiving
The Thanksgiving menu we know and love today is not as old as you might think. In fact, you probably wouldn’t recognize the original meal the Pilgrims ate back in the 17th century.
For as long as we can remember, the quintessential dishes at a Thanksgiving dinner table—the food that makes Thanksgiving, well, Thanksgiving—have included turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkins. Corn and mini marshmallows, too. Without any of these elements, there would be no Thanksgiving dinner, right?
But what if we told you that practically none of these dishes were actually present at the very first Thanksgiving in America. That’s right, the 17th century event that launched one of the most iconic American holidays would have been nearly unrecognizable to any person alive today, not only for its dark background, but because of its food. So, what did the Pilgrims actually eat during the first-ever Thanksgiving dinner?
Here’s How The Thanksgiving Parade, The Largest In The World, Got Started
It used to have live animals instead of giant balloons! Here’s the history of Macy’s famous Thanksgiving Parade.
The dropping of the ball, the lighting of the tree—New York City is home to many iconic traditions during the holiday season. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of them, and it holds a special place for Americans all across the country. In its core, hidden under all its marvelous grandeur and extravaganza, it represents the modern spirit of Thanksgiving. And as far as traditions go, it’s one of the most endearing to watch. It certainly helps that Macy’s event is the largest parade in the world.
We know the effect several marketing campaigns can have over culture and traditions. De Beer’s “A Diamond Is Forever” did much for the wedding ring custom, as did Coca Cola’s Christmas ads in the 1920s (which, though they didn’t invent Santa Claus, are responsible for the popularization of his current look).
Speaking of the 1920s, they also happen to be key for the beloved Macy’s parade. The department store was booming during that decade, and by 1924 it occupied a whole city block on Herald Square, all the way to 7th Avenue. So, taking advantage of their position and noticeable presence, Macy’s president Herbert Strauss figured it would be a good move to invite potential clients for a pre-Christmas shopping spree. And what better way to do so than to host an exuberant celebration to live up to Macy’s grand name? “A parade!,” the company yelled, and people responded to their call.
In its first iteration, the route was three times longer than it is today, but the parade was also much smaller. However, with bands, floats, customs, marching employees, and even live animals borrowed from the zoo, the event was massive for the time. Santa Claus was welcomed into Herald Square (as has been ever since), and over 250,000 thousand people attended to see it all. Macy’s strategy had paid off: the parade was such a huge success that the store declared it would become a yearly event.
Each subsequent year the parade became bigger, and its popularity increased accordingly. By 1927, the live animals were fortunately replaced with big balloons—a now quintessential feature of Macy’s parade. Who would recognize the celebration without its signature inflatable giants? We owe this move to a man named Anthony Frederick Sarg, who owned a marionette business. Sarg had recently moved from London, and his skills didn’t go unnoticed. Soon enough, Macy called on him to design a window display to promote the event, and he ended up designing the animal-shaped balloons as well. Famously, the first inflatable to be featured in the parade was Felix the Cat.
However, the newly-implemented balloon tradition didn’t come without a hiccup. At first, not knowing how they would behave, these inflatables lacked all the safety parameters that the parade now enforces. For instance, in 1928 they were released to the sky, but, surprisingly, all of them suddenly bursted. So, in later years, a valve had to be added that would allow them to float for days. Little by little more regulations were implemented, and the parade’s standards began to settle into what we see today. In spite of the mild setbacks, the event kept growing. And it would have been an uninterrupted tradition up to our days as well, were it not for World War II.
Unfortunately for people at the time, from 1942 to 1945 the custom had to be cancelled because the war efforts required all the production of rubber and helium that would’ve been used by the balloons. Just as well, actually. Perhaps such a massive celebration would’ve been out of place during such a brutal time.
When it returned to the streets at the end of the war, Macy’s parade was received with great enthusiasm. Over two million people attended that time, and that number has only increased over the years. Its popularity grew even further after the parade was featured in the classic Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street, which brought it into the minds and hearts of Americans across the country.
Today, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has become a colossal production featuring over a dozen giant designer balloons, over 30 floats, 1,500 dancers, 750 clowns, several marching and professional bands, and more than 8,000 participants. 3.5 million people attend it, and its televised broadcast has more than 50 million viewers. When you take all those impressive numbers into account, it’s easy to see how Macy’s event holds the title of the biggest parade in the world.
The parade takes place on Thanksgiving day, which in 2019 falls on Thursday, November 28. It kicks off at 9am and ends around noon, going from 77th Street and Central Park all the way to Macy’s Herald Square (through 34th Street) for Santa’s crowning moment. For more information, you can visit Macy’s official page. You really should check it out now that you know a bit more about its history. And, regardless of where you are or what you’ll be doing, we hope you have a great Thanksgiving!