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The Story Of How Thanksgiving Day Came Into Being

Today, Native Americans commemorate Thanksgiving in different ways.

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Thanksgiving Day
The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. VOA
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In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest by firing guns and cannons in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The noise alarmed ancestors of the contemporary Wampanoag Nation who went to investigate.

That is how native people came to be present at the first Thanksgiving, says Ramona Peters, historic preservation officer of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which suggests that paintings depicting Native Americans sitting down for a bountiful and harmonious meal with colonial families is basically a lie.

“The Wampanoag people, men, were not really sure what they were being told was actually true, so they stayed around for a few days. They camped outside,” says Peters. “So there was a lot of tension as well, all of these men, warriors, were next door in the woods at night in the dark close by.”

Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving with the Indians by N. C. Wyeth. VOA

While the Wampanoag might have shared food with the Pilgrims during this strained fact-finding mission, they also hunted for food.

What was actually eaten at that first Thanksgiving is far different from the turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing that grace many holiday tables today, according to experts at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

“We … know turkey was plentiful in Plymouth Colony, but we don’t know for certain that it was served at the meal,” Plimoth Plantation’s Kate Sheehan told VOA via email. “The likelihood is very strong, though. Mussels, lobster and eel were available as well, and enjoyed by both the English and Wampanoag.”

Plimoth Plantation attempts to replicate the original Plymouth Colony settlement established by the English colonists in the 17th century, and makes educated guesses about what else might have been on the first Thanksgiving table.

“English gardens probably produced cabbages, carrots, cucumbers, colewort (collards), parsnips, turnips, beets, onions, radishes, lettuce and spinach, as well as sage, thyme, parsley, marjoram, fennel, anise and dill,” Sheehan says. “Wampanoag and English women also cultivated beans and squashes, including pumpkins.”

 

Thanksgiving Day
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner often includes turkey, gracy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing and sweet potatoes. VOA

 

Other foods that would have been available at that time of year include Jerusalem artichokes, wild onions, garlic, watercress, cranberries, Concord grapes and native nuts, including walnuts and chestnuts.

“Native people also dried out-of-season fruits such as blueberries and currants, and added them to dishes throughout the year,” Sheehan says.

Although Americans now celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, historians can’t pinpoint the exact date of the very first Thanksgiving.

“We know it took place over three days sometime between mid-September and early November in 1621, and was considered a harvest celebration following a successful planting of multicolored flint corn, or maize,” says Sheehan.

It wasn’t until 1863, during the Civil War, that Thanksgiving became a national holiday. President Abraham Lincoln furthered an idealistic Thanksgiving narrative for strategic reasons.

Thanksgiving Day
In this Nov. 15, 2018, photo, Mashpee Wampanoag Kerri Helme, of Fairhaven, Mass., uses plant fiber to weave a basket while sitting next to a fire at the Wampanoag Homesite at Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, Mass. VOA

A woman named Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of an influential women’s magazine, had a hand in convincing President Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving holiday would help unite the war-torn country.

“It was a socio-political move to try to reunite the North and the South after the Civil War to have this national holiday,”says Peters, of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. “It was their brainchild to have this national holiday called Thanksgiving, and its popularity grew through time, but it was actually a pretty smart move to establish something to unite families. During the Civil War, a lot of families actually split down the middle, brothers against brothers.”

Today, Native Americans commemorate Thanksgiving in different ways. Some consider it a day of mourning given the rapid colonization and displacement of their people. Others gather with their families, but the Pilgrims aren’t on their minds.

Also Read: Successfully Harvested First Vegetable Crop In The Australia

Peters says native people celebrate a number of thanksgivings throughout the year, at times such as when certain crops come in or a particular fish returns to spawn. Giving thanks is a big part of the Wampanoag members’ spiritual life, she adds.

The tribe, also known as the “People of the First Light,” will have a number of reasons to give thanks this year.

“On a tribal level, we have a chief who’s 98 years old and we’ll give thanks for him still being with us and willing to lead us as a traditional leader,” Peters says. “We will be thankful for the land that is in our care, for the newborn babies into our tribe. We live by the ocean, so we’re First Light people so we give thanks to the bay.” (VOA)

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U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan

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Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan"s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The United States said Saturday it welcomes actions Pakistan is taking to promote a negotiated solution to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

The acknowledgement came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his country has arranged another round of Washington’s peace talks with the Afghan Taliban scheduled for Monday.

“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson in Kabul told VOA.

US negotiator

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the spokesperson added.

Neither Khan nor the U.S. spokesperson have disclosed the possible venue for the upcoming meeting with Taliban officials.

Some Afghan sources say Monday’s meeting will take place in Islamabad, but no official confirmation is available.

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U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Khalilzad, who is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks, is to lead the U.S. delegation in talks with insurgent representatives. This will not be the first time Khalilzad has met with the Taliban.

Since taking office in September, the special U.S. envoy has held two publicly known rounds of preliminary discussions with insurgent negotiators in Qatar, where the Taliban runs its so-called political office. The talks have been for the sake of talks, according to insurgent and other sources aware of the meetings.

Trump’s letter to Khan

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month wrote a formal letter to Khan asking for his help to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations. A day later, Khalilzad visited Islamabad where he met with Khan and his military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to follow-up on Trump’s request, Pakistani officials say.

Speaking in northwestern city of Peshawar on Friday, Khan said the U.S. has changed its tune by requesting help instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. officials have previously insisted.

“By the grace of Allah, the dialogue is now happening inshallah [God willing] on the 17th [Khan did not mention the month] and Pakistan has facilitated the talks between America and the Taliban,” Khan said. He did not share further details.

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Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

Khan recounted Friday that critics used to mock him as “Taliban Khan” for saying the Afghan war could not be ended without political negotiations but now all key stakeholders are jointly working to pursue a political settlement to end the violence in Afghanistan.

“If peace were achieved, God willing, Peshawar will change and become a hub of commerce and tourism, as things around the 2,500 years old living city are likely to change,” Khan said Friday.

Ambassador Khalilzad is 13 days into an 18-day visit to the region. He has traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium and plans to visit the U.A.E. and Qatar.

Withdrawal an issue

Pakistani officials privy to the U.S. interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.

Also Read: What to Make of Taliban’s Continued Rare Silence on Ghani’s Peace Offer? 

U.S. officials have long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces. (VOA)