Thanksgiving 2015: History, trivia, facts and 5 things you need to know

26 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Descendants thankful for Mayflower ties.

If your last Thanksgiving “history” lesson involved gluing feathers to paper bag vests in preschool, you may not know that the celebration actually took place in September, that there were few women or children, and that the shared banquet was mostly an accident.This week, as we gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, it is time to open a conversation, one that acknowledges more truthfully the injustices, past and present, in the Thanksgiving stories we tell.They were the first immigrants to come to America fleeing persecution—and their spirit of gratitude is also an obligation that extends forward throughout the generations.For most of us, the Pilgrims are figures of legend and lore, vaguely remembered from elementary school lessons as those people who arrived from England on the Mayflower almost 400 years ago and had something to do with Thanksgiving. “It makes Thanksgiving more than just a fancy turkey dinner,” said Ray Raser, an officer with the San Diego Colony of the Society of Mayflower Descendants. “It becomes a history that you feel a part of.” Genealogists believe there may be 30 million people worldwide descended from the Mayflower passengers, but only 29,000 are society members.

Although Abraham Lincoln didn’t make the feast an official national holiday until 1863, Thanksgiving lore goes back to 1621, when the Pilgrims and Wampanoag shared a three-day harvest celebration at Plymouth Colony. In the centuries that have passed since the Pilgrims first dined with the Wampanoag at Plymouth, the gulf separating Native and non-Native Americans has become huge, thanks to war, disease, genocide and countless harmful policies inflicted on Natives. Long before Syrians fled ISIS and Jews fled the Nazis and Irish fled the famine, the Puritans fled persecution to become the original refugees to alight on our shores. While we think of feasting at tables filled with food and drink, and imagine the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony inviting neighboring Indians to join them to celebrate a plentiful harvest, Thanksgiving Day has a much more religious meaning. In gratitude for having found refuge and for the assistance they received from the Native Americans after landing at Plymouth Rock, the Puritans we call Pilgrims held what we know as the first Thanksgiving. “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors… many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted,” wrote Edward Winslow of that gathering in November of 1621. “And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” By then, another Pilgrim family, the Whites, had achieved what would be the dream of refugees through the centuries to come: to have a child born in America.

Not understanding the cause of the gunfire, the Wampanoag leader, Massasoit, traveled to the village with some warriors, having recently signed a treaty with the English that each group would defend the other. “When he arrives, he finds out there’s nothing going on and that they’re having a celebration,” said Tim Turner, guest experience manager at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “He’s invited to stay at the point. In 1671, the governing council of Charlestown, Mass., proclaimed June 29 “as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favor.” Annually from 1777 through 1784, as the American colonists fought for their independence, the Continental Congress issued proclamations each fall, calling for days of “public thanksgiving and praise” and “humble supplication” to Almighty God.

New York City is the urban area with the most Native Americans, but at 111,749 residents, Natives make up less than 2 percent of the country’s largest city. It’s easier than it used to be, thanks to various Internet search services, but it still takes time and persistence to trace back through a dozen or more ancestors — to get past parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, past both world wars, past the Civil War, past even the Revolutionary War. One of the only surviving documents, a letter from Edward Winslow, an English leader, details how four men were sent “fowling,” bringing back enough birds and ducks for a week. The challenging part accelerates these days through harsh words of the politically correct who see only the faults and flaws of those who brought civilization to these shores.

In 1789, the first year of his presidency, George Washington designated Thursday, Nov. 26 as a day for “prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations” both in thanksgiving for his “signal and manifold mercies” and to request him to “pardon our national and other transgressions.” President James Madison proclaimed days of prayer and fasting three times during the War of 1812. Absent contact with actual Natives, most Americans are left with negative images that are mired in myths from the past, such as feathered headdresses and tomahawks, and tainted with more recent stereotypes, such as casinos and alcoholism.

The “Indian” mascots displayed so proudly by sports teams such as the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks perpetuate caricatures that are inaccurate and hurtful. Parsnips, turnips, carrots, onions, garlic, beans and leeks were likely grown in the Pilgrims’ gardens, complemented by wild chestnuts, walnuts, and grapes. The term was not used maliciously, but the word took on a life of its own and changing it was to clarify, not to divide, though it remains controversial.

The ranks through the years have included the famous (Julia Child, Clint Eastwood, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Hefner) and the powerful (Presidents Adams, Bush, Grant, Roosevelt). I had been welcomed warmly by a handful of Native Americans on the Menominee reservation, during the early stages of what has become a decades-long collaboration involving Northwestern University, where I am a professor, and Native communities. The clarification of nomenclature expanded to a call for hyphenating all Americans, accentuating identity that sets us apart rather than looking at what links us. Elders at the 21st century Thanksgiving table yearn for conversations inclusive of the ideals once depicted on the magazine covers of the Saturday Evening Post, reflecting traditions that bring us together. Norman Rockwell’s illustrations of the Four Freedoms, articulated by Franklin Roosevelt, was not necessarily multicultural, but it symbolized the values that brought waves of immigrants to us.

And let us ever be mindful of the faith and spiritual values that have made our Nation great and that alone can keep us great.” In 2004, President George W. Today we can enjoy Thanksgiving with a traditional turkey and cornbread dressing, as the Pilgrims did, or tofu turkey stuffed with quinoa, with sides of spicy kimchi, Brussels sprouts with chorizo, cranberries in hoisin sauce or even Grandma’s mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.

Saturday, they gathered at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar for an annual meeting celebrating the anniversary of the Mayflower Compact, the document that framed how the fledgling settlement (and eventually the United States) would be governed. On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge that all of these things, and life itself, come from the Almighty God.” President Obama has continued the tradition, at least ceremonially. After looking at their mascot, a young Native child leaned over to her mother and asked, “Why don’t I look like an Indian?” This Thanksgiving, non-Native Americans can begin to change these attitudes.

His proclamations frequently refer to God obliquely through a statement about George Washington’s or Abraham Lincoln’s gratitude to the Almighty, or to express praise to the Wampanoag Indians for aiding the Pilgrims. The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian offers an inspiring entry point, providing a wealth of material designed for children and adults on its website. For Jews, memories of the suffering of forefathers in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, and then the Holocaust, remind us to count the blessings of America even as we mourn the murder of our brothers and sisters. They scraped by on their modest savings until they got work permits. “Before, I thought life must be ending,” the mother says. “You always have to have hope and stand up on your feet and work and you will fulfill a lot.” As they neared their first holiday season in America, the son went with his third-grade class on a field trip to Plymouth Rock.

No immigrant is untouched by the history that brought him here, whether of human intolerance and cruelty or the wrath of nature delivering scarcity and famine. As long as the people as a whole have not rejected all public reference to God nor abandoned religious practices, and if principles based on religious teachings continue to regulate their societal behavior, it will be possible to maintain a spirit of virtue to advance the well-being of our republic and its populace. Almost 50 people died that first winter, victims of disease, malnutrition and the elements, and by the next fall, the survivors felt a need to count their blessings.

Among the best-known examples are the Native American Code Talkers, who served in World War I and II, employing indigenous languages to relay messages without being understood by enemy forces. Charlie Baker, who had been asked earlier in the day for his views on admitting Syrian refugees in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris. “These refugees are just people who by war lost everything,” she told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “They’re not ISIS. Many Jews, to draw from my own heritage, were denied entry to the United States when they were trying to escape the Nazis, even though some quotas went unfilled.

While we enjoy the camaraderie and festivities of the day, do not forget its central purpose — to thank God for His innumerable blessings on us, our families and our nation. What an expression of faith it would be if everyone could begin the day with an act of recognition of God, attend a church service, say more than a superficial prayer, and perhaps, just perhaps, decline that extra piece of pie. They left Syria because they were just seeking peace and a life for their kids.” She could have been talking about the Pilgrims her son learned about when he visited Plymouth Rock. Other immigrants confronted anger and frustration from Americans who feared the new arrivals would take their jobs, or change the American way of life. “The melting pot,” coined as a simple metaphor to unify us, often had indigestible lumps in the stew. We’re relegated to being an asterisk or not even counted or being a joke, like a sports team mascot.” We can also create a Black Friday tradition in which we buy or share books that increase our understanding, such as “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, “The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America” by Thomas King and “Caleb’s Crossing” by Geraldine Brooks.

We’re not, as the president glibly suggested, “scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States.” As numerous officials in Congress, the military, the FBI and the CIA have testified, the vetting process needs work. But then she took a trip with her father and her sister to Massachusetts in the 1990s, to visit places he knew growing up, and they came across family names in museums and genealogy books.

Marco Rubio, a child of Cuban immigrants, observed correctly that if only one in a thousand is coming to take his place in an ISIS sleeper cell, “you have a problem.” We won’t settle the current immigration problem during the holidays, but we ought to “pause,” as House Speaker Paul Ryan argues, for a debate and to work on vetting of the arriving migrants. After he died, she dug some more and found the link: her grandfather was married to a woman whose lineage stretched back to the Pilgrims. “I’ve always regretted that my dad never found out for sure that we were Mayflower people,” Shiloff said. Let’s continue this trend on Thanksgiving by opening a conversation that links us more truthfully to our past and brings us clearer insight into the present. Shiloff has been trying to find links to another prized Mayflower ancestor, Stephen Hopkins, who is believed to have been at Jamestown before he was at Plymouth — a New World two-fer. But this is still a special time of the year for them, and some make a point during their family feasts to acknowledge the early days of the tradition they are enjoying. “All these years we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving in this country and in our family, and to learn we have a personal connection to it — that’s still amazing to me,” said Budd Leef, who lives in Rancho Peñasquitos.

When he was finished, his mother said, “Do mine now.” Leef wasn’t thrilled about another long slog through official records, but the family already had paperwork going back five generations. He went on the Internet and in less than two days found a Pilgrim connection. “I was so excited I woke my wife up at 1 in the morning to tell her,” he said. Some get so fascinated with it all that they take trips to Plymouth or go to England and Holland to see where the Pilgrims started. “It gives you an appreciation for the price they paid and the harrowing journey across the ocean,” said Raser, the colony’s corresponding secretary and former governor.

He remembers walking the places where Brewster was born and lived and visiting the cell where he was imprisoned for his religious beliefs. “It was a very unique feeling,” Raser said. “I felt like I belonged on that ground.”

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