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Opinion: The True Meaning of Thanksgiving

A plate of food for a Thanksgiving celebration, including mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, deviled eggs, turkey, and vegetables
Photo by Aminah Jenkins

Content warning: mention of violence and slavery

While Valentine’s Day is considered a “commercial holiday” by many, I personally believe that it has been wrongly accused. This Feb. 14 holiday is a day dedicated to showing one’s significant other that you care. While there are many corporations that benefit from the holiday, the thought behind the day comes back to love.

Unlike Valentine’s Day, I would not mind throwing Thanksgiving out the window. While having this day to gather with one’s family is wonderful, the history behind the holiday is not something we should be celebrating.

We have been taught that Thanksgiving originated in Plymouth, Massachusetts during the time of colonial America. The story most often taught about the first celebration of the holiday tells of an unnamed Native American tribe welcoming the Pilgrims to a feast where they share knowledge of the land. This is a bloodless scene, a feast between new friends. It is full of falsehoods.

This unnamed tribe was actually the Wampanoag tribe. There was a bloody history between this tribe and the Europeans, including slave raiding by the Europeans. Leading up to the arrival of the Mayflower, the Wampanoag tribe had experienced an epidemic of disease, lowering their population. Due to this decrease in number, the tribe reached out to form an alliance with the Pilgrims, hoping to defend themselves against tribal threats.

Following this alliance, relations deteriorated between Native Americans and European settlers. This culminated in King Philip's War, one of the most horrific events of the time.

It was not until the late 1700s that the modern idea of Thanksgiving began to form. This was a ploy to increase tourism in New England as it became less relevant during the early republic. Thanksgiving was declared a holiday during the Civil War by former president Abraham Lincoln after the idea of the dinner became popular.

The history behind this holiday is horrific and bloody. It also contributes to the continual erasure of Native American history. In lieu of Thanksgiving, recognizing Native American Heritage Day, which occurs on the fourth Friday in November, would show more appreciation for American history. By observing this day, a step forward could be made for educating oneself and others on Native American history.

By Maggie Barnhill, Staff Writer


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