400th Anniversary of Thanksgiving…or ‘The1621 Harvest Feast’

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving of 1621, originally called the 1621 Harvest Feast, Smithsonian Magazine reports in an article that explores what that first American Thanksgiving might have been like, “How to Tell the Thanksgiving Story on Its 400th Anniversary.”For one thing, it was a three-day fest at Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts. Attending were the original Pilgrim settlers from England and some 90 Wampanoag Indians from a coastal community called Patuxet 40 miles away, who represented seven different Indian tribes. Their aim was diplomacy, and while they could only communiate through a few Indian translators who understood English, early reports of this first Thanksgiving say that for these three days, at least, a peaceful understanding was reached between the settlers and the Indians.

Today, several museums, including Pilgrim Hall Museum and Plimoth Patuxet Museum (formerly known as Plimoth Plantation), are trying to expose the historical facts surrounding the interaction between the early European settlers and the Patuxet, who had lived on the land for some 10,000 years.While cultural lore has it that the two groups feasted on turkey, the main staple of that meal was deer that the Indians hunted and brought to the table. Researchers also wonder if female Indians and their children also attended the feast, and it is generally believed that they did.It is important for Americans to dispell the mythology surrounding Thanksgiving and to remember historical facts, Linda Coombs, a member of the Wampanoag and program direftor at the Aquinnah Cultural Center on Martha’s Vineyard, tells the Smithsonian Magazine.”These two groups very recently formed an alliance and [were] still getting acquainted with each other,” Coombs says. “You have to look at this with diplomatic overtones….This was a way to cement this very fresh alliance between the English and…the leader of the many tribal elements [Massasoit] represented.”People coming together as families and having a meal — that’s wonderful,” Coombs continues. “However, we would ask that people also remember how it is that they came to be able to do this. It’s because land was taken from us so they [the Europeans] could live here. Everything was done to annihilate our culture and people. It they think that’s too dramatic, then they don’t understand the history.”The article also notes that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History currently has an exhibit exploring these issues called “Upending 1620: Where Do We Begin?”

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