Almost Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong


“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” from 1914, by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe.

Source: New York Times

By Maya Salam

Not to rain on our Thanksgiving Day parade, but the story of the first Thanksgiving, as most Americans have been taught it, is not exactly accurate.

Blame school textbooks with details often so abridged, softened or out of context that they are rendered false; children’s books that distill the story to its most pleasant version; or animated Thanksgiving television specials like “The Mouse on the Mayflower,” which first aired in 1968, that not only misinformed a generation, but also enforced a slew of cringeworthy stereotypes.

High school textbooks are particularly bad about stating absolutes because these materials “teach history” by giving students facts to memorize even when the details may be unclear, said James W. Loewen, a sociologist and the author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.”

“That mind-set pervades everything they talk about and certainly Thanksgiving,” he said.

The timeline is relative.

The Mayflower did bring the Pilgrims to North America from Plymouth, England, in 1620, and they disembarked at what is now Plymouth, Mass., where they set up a colony. In 1621, they celebrated a successful harvest with a three-day gathering that was attended by members of the Wampanoag tribe. It’s from this that we derive Thanksgiving as we know it.

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5 replies

  1. It is obvious that the Europeans brought along their religion and traditions, the Autumn Harvest Festival being one of them. However, over time this event like many others has been Americanised with various additions, including the poor turkey. I did ask an American friend today to remind me what Thanksgiving was about, as I’m sure that many people will come up with different answers. I have yet to check if there is an answer.

    So far as the Autumn Harvest Festival in Europe is concerned, it was always a beautiful religious ceremony giving thanks for a good harvest, although I don’t know if it is still practised in the same way as it once was, or even if it has also become Americanised. On the other hand, farming has also changed from the small farmers to industrial farming, so people are no longer in touch with the workings of Mother Earth, and giving thanks is no longer relevant. Sad!

    • I was shocked to see in Switzerland ‘Black Friday Sales’, when in fact the Swiss have little idea about American Thanksgiving ‘long weekend’. Marketing is King…

    • I was shocked to see in Switzerland ‘Black Friday Sales’, when in fact the Swiss have little idea about American Thanksgiving ‘long weekend’. Marketing is King…

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