Thanksgiving Creation Myths


Akim Reinhardt debunks some of the tales behind our "modern, secular, national creation story": One example:

Any meal the Puritans might have shared with the Wampanoags was not the first
American Thanksgiving. Based on European harvest-home feasts, not Indian rituals, earlier examples include: 1578, Martin Forshiber’s Thanksgiving feast after his third Atlantic crossing to Canada;1598, Don Juan de Onate’s Thanksgiving feast on the banks of the Rio Grande after crossing the Mexican desert and before beginning his terroristic campaign to subdue the Pueblos;1606, Samuel de Champlain’s harvest feast in Quebec; 1619, Thanksgiving feast at Berkeley Plantation on the Chesapeake, with the Virginia Company decreeing that day (December 4) an annual holiday.

But, like any creation myth, the narrative serves a purpose:

Through it, [Americans] tell themselves that the United States was founded upon liberty and friendship.  The Puritans were seeking freedom.  The Indians welcomed and helped them.  Things might have gotten very messy later on, but it all began with the best of intentions on both sides. … After all, that’s a lot more comforting than telling yourself it began in a firmament of religious zealotry, colonialism, slavery, and genocide.

In a Smithsonian article republished from last year, Megan Gambino itemized the first Thanksgiving menu:

Turkey was not the centerpiece of the meal, as it is today, explains [foodways culinarian at Plimoth Plantation Kathleen] Wall. Though it is possible the colonists and American Indians cooked wild turkey, she suspects that goose or duck was the wildfowl of choice. In her research, she has found that swan and passenger pigeons would have been available as well. … It is possible that the birds were stuffed, though probably not with bread. (Bread, made from maize not wheat, was likely a part of the meal, but exactly how it was made is unknown.) The Pilgrims instead stuffed birds with chunks of onion and herbs. "There is a wonderful stuffing for goose in the 17th-century that is just shelled chestnuts," says Wall. "I am thinking of that right now, and it is sounding very nice."

(Vintage postcard from Flickr user riptheskull)