The Truth You May Not Know About Thanksgiving

On Thursday, Nov. 26, many Native Americans and their allies across the country will observe the 51st National Day of Mourning. While most Americans will sit down to Thanksgiving dinners — albeit (hopefully) smaller ones than in years past due to COVID-19 — this counter-observance is designed as an ongoing protest to the sanitized narrative of the holiday told in school textbooks and TV specials. Instead of gorging themselves on a massive meal, observers will remember the killings of Indigenous people and tribes that began when European settlers reached the Americas.

The image of buckle-clad Pilgrims sitting down to a turkey dinner with friendly Native Americans are more products of Charlie Brown specials than actual history. Although there are nuggets of truth within this heartwarming myth, reality is much more fraught.

In 1620, the first Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts — but their journey across the Atlantic wasn’t primarily in search for religious freedom. The New York Times reported that many had fled England in the 17th century to escape religious persecution — but they had already found refuge in Holland. This group of Puritan Christians referred to themselves as separatists (the term “pilgrim” didn’t exist until the late 1800s), and their main goal was to establish a religious theocracy in the “New World.” In short, like most Europeans who arrived in the Americas before and after them, they were seeking money.

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