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The untold history of Thanksgiving: What your textbooks might have missed

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The history of Thanksgiving (Photo: MundoNOW Archive)
  • Learn the history of Thanksgiving.
  • How did the celebration come about?
  • What this traditional meal means.

Exploring the layers of Thanksgiving’s history reveals a narrative richer and more complex than commonly shared.

Beyond the traditional images of Pilgrims and Native Americans breaking bread, there’s a tapestry of events and meanings that often go overlooked.

We peel back the pages of history to present a fuller picture of Thanksgiving.

Uncover how the traditional Thanksgiving feast came about.

Join us as we uncover the aspects of this holiday that textbooks might have left behind.

Before Plymouth: Thanksgiving’s deep roots

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Photo: Shutterstock

Thanksgiving is widely recognized as a time for family gatherings and bountiful feasts, but its origins are far from the harmonious scene many imagine.

The commonly told history of Thanksgiving begins in 1621, with the Pilgrims celebrating a successful harvest with the help of Native Americans.

However, this narrative glosses over the complex relationships and numerous thanksgiving observances that predate the Plymouth feast.

It’s a day with deep historical roots that stretch back far beyond the arrival of European settlers.

A multicultural tapestry

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Photo: MundoNOW Archive

Contrary to popular belief, the first official Thanksgiving didn’t take place in Plymouth Colony, nor was it a unique concept invented by the Pilgrims.

Long before Europeans set foot on North American soil, Indigenous peoples held ceremonies to give thanks for bountiful harvests and other blessings.

When the Spaniards arrived in the Americas, they also brought their own traditions of thanksgiving.

These diverse celebrations reflect the multifaceted nature of giving thanks and the variety of cultures that have shaped the holiday.

The Wampanoag and the Pilgrims

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Photo: Shutterstock

The Wampanoag people, who played a key role in the survival of the Pilgrims, had their own traditions of giving thanks that were pivotal to the 1621 feast.

This alliance was forged out of necessity and mutual benefit, a detail often understated in many retellings.

The celebration that ensued was not called «Thanksgiving» by the Pilgrims. It was a harvest festival that lasted three days.

It wasn’t until much later that this gathering was retroactively labeled as the «first Thanksgiving.»

Lincoln’s proclamation and the Civil War

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Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation is a cornerstone in the holiday’s evolution, often overlooked today.

Amidst the Civil War, Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving to foster unity, but this was not the first proclamation of its kind.

Several presidents before him, including George Washington, had called for days of thanks.

Lincoln’s contribution was to standardize the holiday, setting it on the path to becoming the fixture it is today.

Thanksgiving today is a reflection of America

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Photo: MundoNOW Archive

The modern Thanksgiving holiday has been shaped by centuries of tradition, making it uniquely American.

While it is a secular holiday today, its religious overtones stem from the Puritanical roots of the early settlers.

Thanksgiving has evolved to represent a time of gratitude, community and the celebration of abundance.

Its continuous transformation reflects the dynamic nature of American culture and society.

History’s selective memory

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Photo: MundoNOW Archive

One might wonder why certain aspects of Thanksgiving’s history are emphasized over others in education and popular culture.

Historical narratives are often simplified, which can inadvertently obscure the full picture.

Acknowledging the nuances and broader history of Thanksgiving allows for a deeper understanding of the past.

This understanding is essential for appreciating the holiday’s true significance and its place in the American story.

The evolution of Thanksgiving dinner

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Photo: MundoNOW Archive

The food commonly associated with Thanksgiving also tells a story of cultural exchange and adaptation.

While turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie are staples now, the original feast likely included a different array of dishes.

The Pilgrims and Wampanoag would have feasted on foods like venison, seafood and native vegetables.

Over time, Thanksgiving cuisine has adapted to include a melting pot of traditions, each dish carrying its own lineage.

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