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The History of Thanksgiving

History from the European colonists records the first Thanksgiving in 1621 in Massachusetts. The story is told how the Native Americans called the Squanto and Wampanoag taught the colonists how to survive in the North American wilderness. The first Thanksgiving was held to celebrate the survival of the colonists with the help of the Squanto and Wampanoag.


Yet there are always two sides to every story. Today what is celebrated as Thanksgiving by the majority of Americans is observed as a national day of mourning by some indigenous people in North America. It is a lamentation of the destruction of Native American culture and people. When the British slaving crews landed in Massachusetts, they brought the disease of smallpox. This killed over ninety percent of the Wampanoag, who lacked the antibodies to fight smallpox. Compared to the Bubonic Plague, where 30 percent of Europeans succumbed, smallpox was a pandemic of epic proportions for the Native Americans.


Still there are self-termed American ‘revisionists’ historians of European descent who claim that it was not the Squanto and Wampanoag who saved the colonists, but capitalism. Revisionists claim that it was the socialist attitudes of the colonists that led to a shortage of food. The communal work ethic and equal sharing of food is seen as the downfall of the colonists by the revisionists. It is claimed that the colonists only prospered once land was divided amongst them. However, this theory excludes the fact that ninety percent of the Wampanoag were dead and that the colonist took over the fertile land developed by the indigenous people.


When the first president of the United Stated of America, George Washington made his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in 1789, the reality certainly was not to celebrate the generosity of the indigenous people. In addition, enslaved Africans in North America had nothing to be thankful for.


In the twenty first century we face significant challenges that may be paralleled with those of the colonists, Squanto and Wampanoag. More than ever, we as a global community, need to seek knowledge, affirm our values and change the world. We may embrace the unity and appreciation for each other that Thanksgiving has come to mean. Yet we must always remain aware of the sacrifice and struggle that gives us cause to celebrate where we are today.


To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Dr. M. L. King Jr.

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