In the past few years, there has been a push to honor the real Thanksgiving history, instead of continuing to perpetuate the myth of a blissful, harmonious feast between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Some people have even suggested we should stop celebrating the holiday at all. Instead of just doing away with the holiday, today we will explore how to celebrate Thanksgiving without spreading the lies.
10 Mind-Blowing Facts About the First Thanksgiving
- The pilgrims, who were actually called Separatists weren’t the first Englishmen to reach the Americas.
- The only reason the pilgrims found empty land to settle on was that 2/3s of the native population had either died from disease brought by English explorers or were kidnapped for the slave trade.
- The pilgrims didn’t land at Plymouth Rock.
- They were not greeted with open arms by the Native Americans. In fact, they didn’t even meet for a long time.
- The English raided graves for supplies to survive the first winter.
- There was a feast but it’s likely that the Native Americans weren’t even there, or at least not on the original guest list.
- Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 to promote unity in the nation. There is so much irony in that fact I don’t even know where to begin…
- They probably ate fowl, lobsters, seals, and even swan…but not turkey.
- There was no pumpkin pie either. (There were no ovens..)
- For many Native American tribes, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning.
How many times did that list make you say “What?!!”. Good. Now go learn more.
Why is it important to take the time to learn the history of the first Thanksgiving
Wait, can’t you just tell me what happened? No, I cannot and here’s why:
- The reason the myth of Thanksgiving has prevailed for so long is that we stopped being critical consumers of information. We tend to believe everything we see on social media, the news, or even in a school textbook, as undeniable truth instead of taking the time to analyze the information and draw our own conclusions.
- I wasn’t there. Even if I were, my account would be skewed by my cultural lens and biases. I don’t want you to accept my skewed version of Thanksgiving history as fact because you might discover something I missed.
- I am not a historian.
So, instead of spoon-feeding you a story that may not be 100% correct, here are some great questions to help you be critical consumers of the information you find about Thanksgiving history:
Questions for Critical Consumers of Information
Does this information make sense?
Is the information logical, probable, and accurate? Does it all add up? Does it align with facts and information you already know?
Where did this information come from?
Are you reading the original source? Is it a first-person account or close to it? Can I trust this author?
Is this a reputable source?
Are you reading a quality, trustworthy source that you can depend on? Is this a well-known journal or organization? Is the information found on this site generally factual and accurate? What do you know about the author?Are there credentials or trainings listed that make him or her an expert on this topic?
Does it include all sides of the story?
Is the source written from one point of view or does it include all perspectives?
Does it answer all my questions?
It doesn’t mean it’s a bad source if you still have questions. That just means you have some more searching to do.
Why was it written?
What are the motives behind this writing? Will someone else benefit by convincing you to believe or take one side over the other?
Please note, answering no to some of the questions above does not necessarily mean that it is a bad source. However, it does mean that this shouldn’t be your only source. It is important to keep looking to give you a clearer picture of the whole story.
Real Thanksgiving History Resources for Adults
Sorry parents but you can’t teach what you don’t know. Before you dive into this topic with your kids, you must take the time to learn the real, heart-wrenching tale.
You may notice that some of these sources contradict one another.
Again, it is hard to know exactly what happened because there are very few accounts of the first Thanksgiving and those that exist are written from the settlers’ point of view. Be sure to use your critical consumer skills to discern what is truth and what is likely part of the myth.
This article is a great introduction to the myths behind the Thanksgiving story we so often tell and some truths we can infuse into our storytelling instead.
This video gives another great explanation of the differences between the traditional Thanksgiving story and the truth. It is simple enough that you could share it with kids but I would preview it first to be prepared for the questions that will come your way.
This next video is the first example of a contradiction in our research. This author states that the Native Americans were likely not invited to the first Thanksgiving at all. Which version do you think is true?
This article by the History channel gives another detailed explanation of how our version of Thanksgiving came to be. Good news, Squanto did exist and he really did help the settlers learn to survive. Our childhood tales weren’t all a lie. However, the reason he was sent to help the settlers may surprise you.
PBS SoCal offers an amazing article full of ideas for not only teaching the real Thanksgiving history but also celebrating with your family in a way that honors history. I love the video they have of the “Sing the Water” song.
Real Thanksgiving History Resources for Kids
National Geographic Kids offers a simple explanation of the facts behind the real Thanksgiving for your late elementary-aged children and beyond who are reading on their own.
For younger kids and books about real Thanksgiving history that you can read aloud together, this book list is amazing. It has so many great titles about different aspects of Native American life and history.
My absolute favorite series for helping kids learn about real history is History Smashers by Kate Messner. Of course, she does not disappoint with her title “The Mayflower”. This is a longer book so don’t expect to read it all in one sitting. Do expect to have your horizons expanded.
How to Celebrate Thanksgiving While Honoring Real Thanksgiving History
First of all, let’s acknowledge that there’s no way to undo the damage that has been done none of these options are enough but we have to do what we can to try to make things better and celebrate differently.
Learn and Teach the Truth
Just by taking the time to read this post, you have already begun celebrating the holiday differently. You are taking the time to learn the real tale. Maybe you can add on diving deeper each year into the real history as part of your holiday tradition?
How Old Should My Kids Be When I Teach Them Real Thanksgiving History?
You may be wondering if this gruesome tale is appropriate for the little ones. Is it OK to just let them believe the fantasy for a few years?
The fantasy version is harmful. It is a hurtful narrative to Native Americans and it is hurtful to all Americans to not acknowledge the reality of our country’s beginnings.
You don’t have to tell your children about all the blood and gore on their first Thanksgiving or protest outside of preschool when your child comes home with a construction paper headdress, but you can tell your child that the story did not end, or begin, the way it was told at school.
Instead, You can offer the teacher some additional options and resources to help him or her to tell a more accurate version of the tale.
You can show your child one of the videos or read one of the books listed above to shed light on the rest of the story.
I promise, you don’t have to traumatize your child with guts and gore to tell the truth.
Honor the Native American Tribes
If you are living in the US, you are living on stolen land. Instead of ignoring that reality, take the time to learn about the rrightful owners of the place where you lie your head.
There is an amazing website called Native-Land that shows you what Native American tribes inhabited the area where you live, what languages they spoke, and more.
Whose.Land is another good website that gives information about the tribes who inhabited what is now Canada.
Take that information and then go learn about that tribe.
Head to your local library and check out books about the tribe who inhabited the area where you live, Google them, look up documentaries, learn as much as you can about the community that existed before yours began.
If you would like some guiding questions for the activity, download our Exploring Real Thanksgiving History Reflection Guide and take some time to learn alongside your kids.
Find Ways to Give Back
After learning about the Native American tribe who lived where you reside, find out if there is a way you can honor them or give back to them.
According to Latasha Morrison, in her book Be the Bridge, one of the most difficult steps for us in bridge-building is taking the time to reconcile wrongs, give back a piece of what was taken.
We are eager to point out wrongs but when it is our role to do something about those wrongs, to make ourselves less so that someone else can have what they deserve, we often back away.
Find a way, even if it is just a small step, to reconcile the wrongs done so many years ago.
Ways to give back to the Native American people:
- Donate to the tribe or an organization that supports Native American tribes
- Go out and clean up your community and neighborhood to be good stewards of the land
- Volunteer at a reservation
- Buy products made by Native Americans
Again I realize that funds don’t right wrongs but we have to start somewhere. Doing something to acknowledge and reconcile reality is better than celebrating a lie.
If you change nothing else, be sure to take the time to give thanks and recognize your privilege. Gratitude is something we should practice daily and Thanksgiving can be a great place to start that practice.
Here are some amazing activities to promote thankfulness. You can also find some ideas in our free guide.
Practicing gratitude daily has the power to change your brain, in a good way, and your perspectives.
In the US, Thanksgiving is a time to get together with friends and family, share some food, have some laughs. But what many people don’t know about the history of Thanksgiving in America is that it wasn’t always so happy-go-lucky. The truth about this holiday has been largely whitewashed from its history. So if you want to base your celebration on truth this year, we recommend doing something different than turkey and cranberry sauce. If nothing else, be thankful for all the things you do have (and give thanks by giving back). Honor Native Americans who were here before us and take the time to learn the real story.
If you’d like a guide for your learning, download the free Exploring Real Thanksgiving History Guide here: