1. The first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 in Plymouth, New England.
2. They were thankful for a good autumn harvest.
3. Along with turkey, they feasted on sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.
4. The three-day event was such a hit that they agreed to do it again every year.
Here are the answers:
1. While the 1621 Plymouth story is widely thought of as the start of Thanksgiving in this country, similar events — including one in Florida in 1565 and another in Virginia in 1619 — also claim that honor. So statement Number 1 is neither true nor false.
2. True. The harvest was bountiful.
3. We don’t know whether wild turkey was served, but pies and sweet potatoes definitely were not.
4. False. The get-together was largely forgotten as soon as it ended.
'Nobody really cared'
Paul Chaat Smith is an associate curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. A member of the Comanche Nation, he knows a lot about Native American culture and politics. But even he was surprised to learn how unremarkable that 1621 event was, both at the time and for decades afterward.
“It happened, but nobody really cared,” Smith said in a Smithsonian interview titled “The Invention of Thanksgiving.” There is very little historical record of what took place, and more than 200 years passed before New Englanders looked back and decided to call it the country’s first Thanksgiving.
Smith believes people grew to love the story of English colonists “having brunch in the forest with Indians” because it made them feel good about themselves and their new homeland. The story stressed the early friendship between the two groups and ignored how Native Americans were later mistreated as the nation expanded with more and more immigrants.
A day for everyone
In the 1920s, school textbooks spread the story of the “first” Thanksgiving in Plymouth. Part truth and part myth, it represents the ideal of what Americans want to be, Smith said, “our best selves.”
“This day that’s so dominant in American life . . . in a way we all created it,” he said.
So some Americans will celebrate this Thanksgiving with Pilgrim- and Indian-themed table decorations and a tasty turkey in the oven, while some Native Americans will mark the day by fasting and mourning their ancestors.
Touching people in so many ways makes Thanksgiving special. “It isn’t really like any other day in American life,” Smith said.
And for that we can all give thanks.
Something for you
Friday is Native American Heritage Day at the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington. This free family event features hands-on activities, crafts to make and take home, music and dancing. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A parent can visit americanindian.si.edu for details.