How much of what I learned in school was the truth? It seems like every year there is another startling lie that comes to light.
While disclosure of the truth is a good thing, I wonder how much more I have to unlearn or learn for the first time.
It’s not news that romanticizing the pilgrims and Indians breaking bread as friends on the first Thanksgiving is rubbish.
Maybe I hung onto the lore of Plymouth, Mass., because as I child I had been there. I remember my elementary classes dressing as pilgrims and Indians. It was all friendly. We were equals. It was a happy, festive time.
I learned this is what it was like in Plymouth as well. It’s what I believed for decades.
That first Thanksgiving—400 years ago next week—in 1621 wasn’t anything like what I was taught. Turkey likely was not on the menu, or any of the desserts associated with the traditional meal today, or even many of the sides.
And it definitely wasn’t about friendship.
It was the Wampanoag Nation who shared that first meal with the white Europeans. But the story is that they were not invited. They showed up when they heard gunfire, which turned out to be the shooting of guns by the white people in celebration of their feast. It wasn’t until learning this was a harvest feast that the Indians chose to participate. After all, harvest feasts were something native Americans had put on long before white people thought of doing so.
The Wampanoag tribe still exists. In fact, their story is told in a tiny museum 30 miles south of Plymouth. But most visitors to Plymouth (1.5 million a year) don’t make the trip to Mashpee to learn about the Wampanoag. That museum gets about 800 people visiting each year.
Maybe it’s time to erase Thanksgiving from the calendar. While that doesn’t change history, it does stop the celebration of what was really the beginning of the demise of a tribe that may have numbered 40,000 people at one time. Today there are about 2,800 Mashpee Wampanoag.
Or maybe we begin to celebrate the indigenous people of the United States. Maybe we should give thanks to them.
When you celebrate Thanksgiving next week, think about what you are really celebrating. I’m still wrestling with it.