What you thought you knew about the first Thanksgiving is wrong. But what you didn’t know can be even more valuable. That’s the message of Robert Tracy McKenzie’s fresh and fascinating book The First Thanksgiving.
Squanto did indeed teach the Pilgrims to fertilize their cornfields with fish, but what else did you learn in school that isn’t true?
- Turkey and pumpkin pie were on the menu. (Water fowl were easier to catch or shoot than turkeys, and the Pilgrims had no ovens to bake pies. Sweet potatoes were not native to North America. In one point there might be similarity to today–a staple of the Pilgrim diet was beer.)
- The Pilgrims invited Native Americans to join them. (Possibly. We don’t know. Equally possible is that they just showed up uninvited.)
- We celebrate Thanksgiving in honor of the Pilgrims. (They would not have felt honored; apart from the Sabbath, they did not believe in regular holidays–that is, “holy days”–not even Christmas or Easter.)
- The Pilgrims wore somber black outfits with metal buckles. (Actually, their clothing was colorful, but they frowned on anything that was like jewelry.)
- The celebration in Massachusetts was America’s first Thanksgiving. (There had been earlier celebrations by the Spanish in Texas and Florida, and by French Huguenots in Florida.)
Correcting such minor errors is not McKenzie’s main point, even though it is instructive in how “history” can become enshrouded with myth. What he wants us to know even more is what we can learn from the actual story. And that is the topic of the next installment.
Next: The First Thanksgiving 2: What We Don’t Know Is Inspiring