A History of Thanksgiving

Josh Underberg, Staff Writer

We typically translate “Thanksgiving” to a holiday of giving thanks, but many people forget why we have a day for giving thanks and where the tradition began.

History teacher Dr. Elisa Milkes explains that “the whole idea of Thanksgiving is rooted in the idea of gratitude to God, often times for peace in warfare.”

“Nowadays, we have separated ourselves from the history a bit more, and we just celebrate Thanksgiving to be thankful in general,” Kimberly Dutta (10) said.

The history of Thanksgiving in America dates all the way back to 1621 when the Pilgrims of Plymouth and the Wampanoag people met for a long feast.

Dr. Kalil Oldham believes this story of the harmony between the cultures is not always accurately told in culture today. “The story as told in pop-culture has tended to highlight certain things and downplay certain things,” Oldham said. For instance, the war that happened afterward isn’t often discussed in the history most people think of, he said.

The same relationship that brought Native Americans and Settlers lead to violence between the two cultures. “It leads to the catastrophic decline of the Native American population through violence and forced submission,” Oldham said. The relationship of all colonists and Native Americans were often violent and catastrophic, he said.

“When the original pilgrims received help from the Native Americans, they grew lots of crops and then had a feast,” Dutta (10) said. Most students know about Thanksgiving through this narrative and how it led to the plentiful meal that Americans eat today.

This story of Thanksgiving has mostly been lost in time, but now more and more students have been learning about the full history and what really happened. Over time, Thanksgiving has come to be more and more centered around food.

History teacher  Ricardo Alvarez-Pimentel describes the food as a “symbolic expression of peace.”

Alvarez-Pimentel relates this idea to interactions between the Pilgrims in Plymouth and the Wampanoag people, explaining that the groups would come to agreements in order to make peace. One group gave the other group harvested food, expecting to establish a peaceful relationship in return, he said.

Milkes also expanded on the idea of Thanksgiving being centered around food.

“I think that this is just a secular version of a harvest holiday,” Milkes explained.

Milkes makes the point that many different religions have harvest holidays dedicated to showing gratitude during harvest. Essentially, Thanksgiving mirrors those other religions.

“Thanksgiving has taken on the caste of an American holiday, pulling people from various different backgrounds together,” said Milkes.

Milkes compares Thanksgiving to the Fourth of July, stating that both occasions are “associated with a national identity, being American.”

While Thanksgiving might not be based completely on positive events from the past, the idea of a large lunch or dinner with your family or friends is what is celebrated now. Students and teachers at the school recognize the importance of food and giving thanks as the tradition continues to live on.