Keeping Thanksgiving Real
Two years before the 1619 Project — even — the New York Times was demythologizing America’s Protestant history.
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.
But it wasn’t until the 1830s that this event was called the first Thanksgiving by New Englanders who looked back and thought it resembled their version of the holiday, said Kate Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth.
The holiday wasn’t made official until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared it as a kind of thank you for the Civil War victories in Vicksburg, Miss., and Gettysburg, Pa.
Beyond that, claiming it was the “first Thanksgiving” isn’t quite right either as both Native American and European societies had been holding festivals to celebrate successful harvests for centuries, Mr. Loewen said.
If you think about giving thanks for religious freedom (as if, during the pandemic) over your white meat and mashed potatoes, think again.
The Pilgrims had religious freedom in Holland, where they first arrived in the early 17th century. Like those who settled Jamestown, Va., in 1607, the Pilgrims came to North America to make money, Mr. Loewen said.
“They were also coming here in order to establish a religious theocracy, which they did,” he said. “That’s not exactly the same as coming here for religious freedom. It’s kind of coming here against religious freedom.”
And if you wind up unwittingly at a casino today, you have something in common with those seventeenth-century theocrats.
Possibly the most common misconception is that the Pilgrims extended an invitation to the Native Americans for helping them reap the harvest. The truth of how they all ended up feasting together is unknown.
But don’t feel too badly about the day that we are sort of celebrating in a way that saves lives. The Times has plenty of recipes to satisfy even the most sinful glutton. The Harts will be serving Turkey Breast Roulade with Garlic and Rosemary.
I feel white Protestant guilt floating away.