I love Thanksgiving as much as the next person. Sharing a feast with friends and family, a few days off at home – cranberry sauce and mashed sweet potatoes with caramelized apples. Not to mention the pumpkin pie that Rich bakes from scratch, using fresh pumpkins from local farms.
Still, history is written by the winners, and like so many of our holidays the actual history of the Thanksgiving holiday is lost to the mists of legend. According to most accounts, our Thanksgiving holiday commemorates the feast held by the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts to celebrate their first successful harvest and the assistance of two Native Americans, Samoset and Squanto, who taught the Pilgrims how to tame the land and nourish their families. But there is some evidence that the primary purpose of the feast was to sign a treaty with the Wampanoag tribe for the land that the Pilgrims occupied, and that the 90 Native Americans who attended the feast actually brought a substantial amount of the food.
Native Americans who greeted the early settlers provided aid and assistance to the newcomers. When the settlers did not return their hospitality, refusing to marry their women and disrespecting their spirituality with efforts to convert them to Christianity, they began to rebel. The early settlers from England viewed the natives as savages rather than equals to be respected.
We all know what happened next.
The idea of holding a celebration to give thanks for the harvest is an ancient one. The ancient Greeks and Romans held celebratory feasts to thank Demeter/Ceres for the year’s bounty, from which comes our “cornucopia,” or horn of plenty. In ancient China, a Moon Festival celebrated the harvest moon with feasting. Ancient Egyptians gathered in thanks to the goddess Min who presided over fertility and plenty.