It’s Thanksgiving! A time when many of us find ourselves sharing this uniquely North American holiday with family and friends from other parts of the world. We’re all agreed that it’s a cherished tradition that involves getting together with family and friends to feast on favorites and give thanks for all that we have.
The rest? Hmm, well, something about turkey… and European migrants with black hats and buckled shoes meeting Native Americans… and cranberries… and football??
Thanksgiving as we know it comes to us after more than a century of being shaped by popular culture and the popular imagination. Today, the holiday is much more about what it means to us personally, and the chance to connect with family and friends, and reflect on what we value most in life.
Historically, things get a bit fuzzier. Many of us were raised on myths and half-truths about the holiday, including ideas about what might have been served or worn at a First Thanksgiving meal. (Hint- no silver shoe buckles or paper feathers.)
This time of year is thus a great opportunity to connect back with the history of North America, including its role as a haven from religious persecution, and the stories of the Wampanoag tribe and other indigenous peoples who have lived there for tens of thousands of years.
Fortunately there are great resources to help us dig deeper into this part of our national heritage. For those who’d like to learn more about some of the real history behind the American Thanksgiving holiday, including how it came to be a national holiday, the US Library of Congress has a helpful Thanksgiving Teachers' Guide with facts, dates and other primary source materials available online.
National Geographic Kids has a children's guide to the story of the Plymouth colonists' relationships with members of the Wampanoag tribe, which sets the stage for the tale of the First Thanksgiving.
To explore the stories of past and contemporary Native American peoples and cultures, visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian's Native Knowledge 360 Resource.
And finally, for a Native perspective on the holiday, see Dennis Zotigh's article for the Smithsonian magazine blog, "Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?"
We hope that you'll enjoy learning more about the rich history and culture of North America. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit!