Thursday, November 28, 2013

#Thanksgiving: In Search of The Truth

Today, Americans throughout the world will be feasting, watching football, spending time with their family and giving thanks. Thanksgiving is a time of personal mediation upon the blessings we have been given this year. Times are rough but so were the times in which the pilgrims lived.

Americans often imagine the Pilgrims as stoic, overly religious, and pacifists. Most of the stories we tell of about them are myths and if the woman in the picture was alive today she wouldn't recognize the image we often like to portray as her people. Notice the colors she is wearing? The pilgrims did not dress in only black and white. This is a very accurate picture of a pilgrim. Remember the buckles on their shoes? Well they didn't wear those, either.


In order to answer that question we must travel further back in time to when King Henry VIII (reigned 1509-1547) ruled England. The national religion of England had been Catholic until 1534, when the king replaced his newly created, Church of England, as the new national religion. Under his decree, every English citizen had to abandon their Catholic faith and become Anglicans. King Henry VIII's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, finished what her father had begun. The king and his daughter had transformed the faith but there were many skeptics of the new found religion. Many of the skeptics felt the new religion kept the same rigid practices of the Roman Catholic faith. They wanted to return to the way the early Christians had worshipped. This group became the Puritans. The Puritans would establish their own colonies in the New World during the 17th century in what is now known as New England.  

Another group of religious reformers were the Separatists. They were considered very radical for their time.  The Separatists didn't want to reform the church. They only sought for worship to be conducted in smaller congregational groupings. The Pilgrims were one of many separatists. It was very dangerous for anyone to join these groups because it was illegal to leave the Church of England. England was a very dangerous place for the Pilgrims. They were arrested, fined or imprisoned. When life became too difficult they decided to move their entire congregation to Holland.

The Pilgrims had been able to freely practice their religion in Holland  for twelve years. The long stay in the Netherlands had taken its toll on them. Their children had abandoned their English culture for a Dutch identity. The Pilgrims felt if they remained in Holland they would lose their English identity and they did not agree with the Dutch's loose morals. You can read more about their journey to the New World at


The first thanksgiving feast was actually a harvest celebration in the Fall of 1621. The pilgrims had  .Native Americans had been hosting thanksgiving feasts long before the English had ever landed on their shores and many of the English explorers had taken note of their celebrations. While the Wampanoag had viewed the feast as a time to give thanksgiving to the creator for the bountiful harvest. The Pilgrims ,on the other hand, believed giving thanks to God was a solemn act that could only be devoted in a time of worship. Thus, they did not view the feast as a Thanksgiving like their Native American counterparts did.
invited Squanto and the Pokanoket Wampanoag leader,  Massasoit.  Massasoit brought 90 of his men to the celebration. Squanto acted as their interpreter. You can learn more about his life at

We rarely hear the side of the story from the Native Americans. Here is an account of the First Thanksgiving by the Wampanoag people.

The Native Americans were very familiar with the English before the Pilgrims had landed. The English had been raiding, kidnapping and raping Native Americans up and down the American East Coast long before the Pilgrims had landed. Infectious diseases such as Measles and Chicken Pox often destroyed villages soon after the English had left. The Native Americans had quickly learned not to trust the English, although some groups still wanted a peaceful relationship with the English. The pilgrims enjoyed a close relationship with the Wampanoag Nation until Massasoit died forty years later. Massasoit was a good leader who had forged many influential treaties with the English that had protected his people.

Want to learn more interesting facts about Thanksgiving? Check out this link.

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