This is a reprint of my 2016 Thanksgiving blog. Today is one of the uniquely American holidays, like 4th of July, that other countries do not share with us, (except in Canada for some reason)…Today is the day we Americans gather together with family and friends and stuff ourselves with turkey and ham and stuffing and gravy and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and biscuits…Whew! I personally am going to pig out, eat like there’s no tomorrow and watch every football game on TV that they are broadcasting, because that is what Thanksgiving is to me, turkey, getting stuffed, and watching football…
This is actually my favorite holiday of the year, no or low stress and such an easy day to kick back and do nothing, so low maintenance, what’s not to love about Thanksgiving? I know there are problems and wars and trouble spots all over the world, but I am going to shut out the world today and all it’s problems for just this one day, this uniquely American holiday and concentrate on having a little “me time”… I have certainly earned it, and I have my health, the love of my family and just the sheer joy of being alive to be thankful for….
In the beginning, the first Thanksgiving was traditionally all about the Native American Indians saving the first English settlers, the Pilgrims, make it through a harsh, cold snowy winter…Without the Indians help, the Pilgrims would have almost surely starved to death….
According to my Google sources: “The first Thanksgiving was surrounded by life’s hardships…The early settlers were bombarded with extreme weather, hunger, sickness and death…Those who had survived believed the best they could do was to stop and give thanks for their survival.”
In early autumn of 1621, the 53 surviving Pilgrims celebrated their successful harvest, as was the English custom. During this time, “many of the Indians coming… amongst the rest their great king Massasoit, with some ninety men.”
That 1621 celebration is remembered as the “First Thanksgiving in Plymouth.” There are two (and only two) primary source descriptions of the events of the fall of 1621.
In “Of Plymouth Plantation,” William Bradford writes:
“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion.
All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc.
Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterward s write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.”
So actually the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of a successful harvest, and the Pilgrims would not have survived without the help of the Native Indians…Our national holiday really stems from the feast held in the autumn of 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate this harvest…
The harvest feast lasted 3 days, and they ate venison, which the Indians provided, plus turkey and a variety of sea food and water fowl, along with maize bread (cornbread), pumpkin and other squash delicacies… The Indians introduced “Indian corn” or maize to the settlers, who did not have it in England….The Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians did have a harmonious relationship in the early years of the Plymouth Colony.
But historians and interpreters say it was based on based on practical reasons that hold lessons for such relations…. The early friendship between the two peoples wasn’t so innocent, either: The Pilgrims heard the Wampanoags out in the forest for four months before their first face-to-face encounter.
There was a mutual dependence between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, it was an alliance of expediency….Simply put, they needed each other…
The Wampanoag had been recently devastated by an outbreak of the plague, brought over by earlier European expeditions, and they faced a life or death struggle with two other nearby tribes…The Wampanoag had numbered some 25,000 members in 1615, but by the time the Mayflower landed they were down to just a few hundred warriors….
From the beginning, relations between the Wampanoags and the settlers they called “the coat men” focused on diplomacy and trade, not a naive handshake between Europeans and the Indians, who’d claimed the land for hundreds of years. But interpreters at Plymouth Plantation say their early contact offers even more important lessons in how strangers and nations really get along…..
The English had nearly starved in the winter of 1620, and they readily welcomed the help of the Wampanoag side for extra food at the harvest time of 1621, and the Indians needed allies to bolster their chance of survival against their local Indian rivals”….
I have often wondered if Native Americans of today regret their long ago ancestors generosity to the pilgrims, but as we have seen, the Wampanoags were not being merely altruistic, they were bolstering their decimated tribal numbers by forging this political alliance between themselves and the Pilgrims…
At any rate, it is a nice story, and the rapid and continuing expansion from these simple early days that focused only on survival and mutual help has evolved into our current tradition of Thanksgiving in America in 2015, including the mass consumption of elaborate food preparation and the more and more commercial aspects of shopping for the holiday season, like the proliferation of Black Friday and Cyber Monday as prime manic shopping days…
I guess the real message of Thanksgiving is to be thankful for what we have, and in Thanksgiving in America in 2017 we have so much to be thankful for…Let’s celebrate the good things in our lives and try to work on fixing the bad things, but everybody has a right to just kick back and enjoy a simple holiday of gratitude….Let’s love our families and friends a little more and really be grateful we live in the best country in the world, America, Thanksgiving in America 2017!
I know I love Thanksgiving, and I am far from rich, but that is the point, it’s not just about money and commercialism….But I am very grateful for my health, the love of my family and the ability to feast and party and knowing at the same time what I am doing is being duplicated and shared by families all across the nation, that we are all united in the same mind set and traditions that gives me that cozy warm and fuzzy feeling today…
That is why Thanksgiving in America 2017 means so much to me….I sincerely hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well!
For more information on the first Thanksgiving, see: http://www.manataka.org/page269.html
For more blogs by John Whye see http://www.johnwhye.com