Life and Laughter –Plymouth CrockNov 04, 2021 12:16PM ● By Peri Kinder
One cool November morning, mom twisted my blonde hair into two braids and painted my face with orange and blue stripes. I put on a fringed vest made from a paper grocery bag (decorated with stick figures and animals), donned my construction paper headband with its fake feathers and walked uphill (both ways) in the snow to school.
Along the way, I met up with friends dressed as Indians or outfitted in Pilgrim attire, with black, buckled hats or kitchen aprons. We were heading to our second-grade class party, unaware we were perpetuating a myth handed down for generations regarding the First Thanksgiving.
We’d been taught the feast was a celebration of friendship, that the Indians didn’t want their BFFs to starve during the winter. We didn’t know Pilgrims were the guests that never leave, who end up stealing your bath towels and giving you smallpox.
We also didn’t know ancestors of the Wampanoag Nation hadn’t been invited to the feast, but responded when they heard Pilgrims firing guns, and thought the settlers were under attack. But the Pilgrims were just shooting their rifles into the air, celebrating a successful harvest, like ya do. Have Americans always been gun lunatics?
Our school Thanksgiving dinner consisted of turkey-shaped sugar cookies, banana bread, orange soda, candy corn and other forms of sugar, because that was one of the main food groups in the ‘70s. Our meal was nothing like the first Thanksgiving where lobster or eel was probably the main course, not turkey. I don’t know how they stuffed an eel, but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty.
The teacher told us to write down things we were grateful for. My list included my family, Nancy Drew mysteries and apple pie. We also brought offerings for a food drive where some lucky family in the neighborhood received 25 cans of cranberry sauce, four boxes of Stove Top stuffing and a case of olives.
Maybe the Pilgrims also made gratitude lists, including finding a land so completely devoid of other humans that they could take whatever they wanted and build a country. Did they think the people native to this continent were just visiting? Lost?
The official Thanksgiving holiday started in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln was so tired of the Civil War, he just wanted a piece of pumpkin pie. Since then, in typical American style, the holiday evolved into a food orgy, consisting of overcooked turkey, mountains of mashed potatoes and nine different Jell-O salads. My food tracking app usually starts to smoke during dessert.
Although it’s true Pilgrims celebrated days of thanksgiving, those observations usually involved fasting and prayer, not gluttony. These “thanksgivings” often occurred after a massacre of Native people. For instance, in 1637, Massachusetts Colony Governor John Winthrop called for a day of thanksgiving after hundreds of the Pequot tribe were massacred.
Not really something you celebrate with grandma’s homemade rolls and jam.
Along with your holiday celebration, maybe you can learn about the challenges still faced by Native Americans including poverty, domestic violence, healthcare and the continuation of harmful stereotypes.
As a 7-year-old, I didn’t know cultural prejudice or appropriation was a thing. I didn’t realize the Disneyfied version of the first Thanksgiving wasn’t accurate, with its cartoonish Pilgrims, smiling Natives and bouncy soundtrack. But now I do. When you gain wisdom, you get to make better choices.