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The Real Thanksgiving

Posted November 2nd, 2010 by mclaugke

When I was in elementary school, there came a time in November when teachers would break out the finger paints and dried macaroni because Thanksgiving was coming up and we needed to celebrate. Like most, I subscribed to the traditional first Thanksgiving narrative of the pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a giant feast. However, in 6th grade I learned of all the events preceding that day, and was quite surprised.

In this day and age, where many cultures come together and begin discussions of how we can all co-exist as one nation, it is imperative that we recognize the history we know is designed to deemphasize wrong doings and perpetuate myths that the founders of this nation were wholesome individuals. Knowing this we must seek out alternative histories to ones that we all subscribe. To this end, I would like to present my findings on the real Thanksgiving.

First, the Thanksgiving that we know today and have been told is not actually the first one. The first recorded Thanksgiving occurred in 1598 in San Elizario, TX near El Paso. This Thanksgiving marked the arrival of Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate on the banks of the Rio Grande. His expedition of 500 people, soldiers and all 7,000 head of livestock trekked for 50 days across the Chihuahuan Desert. At the end of this trek, Oñate ordered a day of thanks be held in recognition of their passage.

The traditional Thanksgiving we know today is a day of thanks, but there are a few parts of the story that tend to be left out. The pilgrims did invite the Wampanoag Indians to a feast where the Indians provided a great majority of the food and they did eat together. However, Thanksgiving Day is not the day it is because the pilgrims sat down with the Indians, it’s a little more complicated than that. In 1637 near what is now Groton, CT, there was a pre-dawn raid on the Pequot Tribe during their Green Corn Festival (our Thanksgiving celebration). During this raid over 700 men, women, and children were murdered as they exited their longhouse while those who did not exit were burned alive in the longhouse.  After this raid, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared a day of thanks. The colonists continued to attack Indian villages and hold days of thanks after each successful raid. Later, as the rate of killings picked up George Washington declared that there will only be one day of thanks per year, and President Abraham Lincoln later made the Thanksgiving we know today a national holiday during the Civil War the same day that he ordered troops to march on the starving Sioux in Minnesota.

While this is a very grim depiction of a day that is meant to be joyous, we must remember that our day of Thanksgiving has roots in the celebration of multiculturalism. If the pilgrim’s Thanksgiving was about religion or family, they would not have invited the Indians. We must recognize that Thanksgiving is a day shrouded in the decimation of a people, but at its core Thanksgiving is a day of celebrating the coming together of cultures, the survival of people in the face of great odds, and generosity.

Padraic McGraw
Community Relations Facilitator-Southside


The comments shared by the Community Relations Facilitator program are strictly the point of view from the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of UHDS. If this article has inspired a desire to dialogue, the author, or another CRF and/or any Resident Assistant, CoOp Director or Resident Director would be happy to participate. Please contact Victor Santana-Melgoza (, UHDS Multicultural Resource Coordinator, to assist in making arrangements.

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