By Betzaira Ruiz

Origins of Thanksgiving

The first group of colonists arrived in the Americas in 1621. They were known as the Plymouth colonists who traveled on the Mayflower. The Mayflower carried about 100 passengers who were looking for a place where they could practice their religion away from the English crown. When the colonists arrived at the new land it was hard for them to get used to the environment and many of them did not survive their first winter. In order to survive, many of them stayed on the ship, but they still suffered from diseases and half of them didn’t make it to spring. The story that is often told is that a member from the Pawtuxet Tribe, Squanto, saw the colonists dying and volunteered to teach them how to hunt and grow food. Squanto taught them how to cultivate corn, extract sap, catch fish in rivers, and how to avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the colonists create alliances with the Wampanoag Tribe. In November 1621 the Pilgrims had their first corn harvest. In celebration, the Governor organized a feast that lasted 3 days with the Native Americans.

This story, however, is not historically accurate. Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, revealed that the story of Pilgrims and Native Americans eating happily together for the first Thanksgiving was used by Abraham Lincoln to try and calm things down during the Civil War since people were so divided. The true history starts with a treaty between the leader of the Wampanoag Tribe, Massasoit, and John Carver, the first governor of the colony. Massasoit sought after a treaty with the English in order to benefit and protect his people. The Wampanoag had been decimated by an epidemic disease and so the treaty with the English stated that the English would protect them from their enemies and the Wampanoag would do the same for the English. Over the 50 years of their alliance there was a constant deterioration of their relationship with the English from colonial land expansion, disease, exploitation of resources, and finally King Philip’s war which shifted the balance of power in favor or the English.

When Squanto assisted with the planting of corn the colonists decided to celebrate their first successful harvest and planned a day of thanksgiving. During this, they shot their guns and cannons as a part of the celebration. This alarmed Massasoit because he did not know who they were shooting at. He responded by gathering about 90 warriors and went to Plymouth to figure out what was going on, and fight if necessary. When they arrived, it was explained to them that it was a celebration. This, however, was not the first contact the Wampanoag had with Europeans. They had already experienced a century of violent encounters, including slave raiding by Europeans, and when the pilgrims arrived some of the Wampanoag already knew English. Because of their experience with other Europeans, Massasoit decided to camp out to make sure the they were telling the truth. They camped nearby for a few days and while they interacted with the colonists, the colonists were generally very nervous around the Native Americans and there was no big Thanksgiving meal shared.

Historically, the English people’s celebration of Thanksgivings involved fasting, prayer, and supplication to God. The evolution of the Thanksgiving myth began in 1769, when a group of pilgrim descendants in Plymouth felt that their cultural authority was decreasing. In a publication by Rev. Alexander Young there was a footnote that mentioned the first Thanksgiving as a great festival. This became widely accepted and Abraham Lincoln declared it a holiday during the Civil War. Thanksgiving increased in popularity in the late 19th century with anxiety over the immigration of European Catholics and Jews and the end of the Indian Wars. Protestants wanted to assert cultural authority over the new comers and include Native Americans in the founding myth of bloodless colonialism to feel good about their colonial past.

How Thanksgiving is Seen in a Negative Way

In an article by Emily Bloodsworth, she writes about how the relationship the pilgrims had with the Native Americans were not truly peaceful. Many of the colonists felt uneasy around the Wampanoag Tribe. As time passed, more English people arrived in the new land, but this group was not as peaceful as the first group of pilgrims. Many of the pilgrims soon realized they no longer needed help from the Native Americans, since they now knew how to utilize the resources in order to survive. Soon the colonists stopped seeing the Natives as their allies but as people they needed to conquer for their land. This brought an end to the peaceful alliance they had and it was the start of illness, violence, war, and death. Many historians have started to label this tragedy as a genocide.

The current teaching of the Thanksgiving myth is also very harmful to some of the Wampanoag people. Kids during Thanksgiving season at school feel like they are invisible and their people’s history is being misrepresented. The Thanksgiving myth reinforces the idea that native people conceded to colonialism, ignoring the atrocities that were committed against the native people by European settlers.

Celebration of Thanksgiving Today

Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Many see this as a time for food, family, and friends. Families tend to get together in large groups to share their traditional meals and activities. The most common types of food served are mashed potato, stuffing, squash, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, corn bread, apple pie, pumpkin pie, cookies, and of course turkey. Each year thousands of Americans travel to be with their family members. Some even travel 100 miles or more just so they can be with each other during dinner. Sadly, this year, like other holidays that have already passed, is going to be different because of COVID-19.

Brief History of the Turkey

Serving Turkey on Thanksgiving was not a tradition until the 19th Century. Many credit Charles Dickens because in the Christmas Carol (1843) the Crachits eat a turkey during their holiday meal. It is unclear if the Pilgrims had turkey for their dinner, but there is evidence that a colonist by the name of William Bradford referred to a “great store of wild Turkies” in Plymouth during that time period. After, many started to link turkeys with Thanksgiving.

Black Friday

Black Friday, another reason why people love Thanksgiving time. Why do we have Black Friday? There is no discernable date when Black Friday originally started, but it is known as the start of the holiday shopping season. Many retailers know holiday shopping does not typically start until after Thanksgiving, and because of this many started to advertise holiday shopping the Friday after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was not always the fourth Thursday of November, it originally was supposed to be on November 30, but Retail Dry Goods Association lobbied President Franklin Roosevelt to move up Thanksgiving a week. This gave retailers an extra week to have shopping season around. President Roosevelt moved it knowing it would have a positive impact on the economy and Congress made it official in 1941. The reason it is called Black Friday is because in just one day “retailers used the day’s volume sales to get out of the red and into the black.” Today many Americans line up at 5 a.m. to get the “doorbusters deals.”

But before having Black Friday, many stores started a phenomenon known as the “Christmas creep.” Here many stores overlook Thanksgiving and start to advertise Christmas months ahead of time. For example, many stores have started putting up Christmas decorations so people can start their shopping early. In recent years, Black Friday has moved to Thursday and has become more of a Black Thursday. Many stores like Walmart and Target have opened their doors at 5pm the day of Thanksgiving. Which causes many families to drop their dinner plans and neglect Thanksgiving family celebrations. It looks like shopping for the holiday season is going to continue to overcome Thanksgiving.

This year’s Black Friday is going to be different due to COVID-19. Many retailers, like Walmart, have announced they will not be hosting indoor Black Friday sales. Many of the sales are going to be online to keep people safe. As seen in videos online, Black Friday can get crazy and people can get hurt. Each year on the news or internet there is always a video displaying the violence of Black Friday. There have been times where people have gotten arrested and times where people have gotten into physical fights with each other over a TV. To help stop the spread of COVID and avoid these problems, many stores are moving the shopping to online.

How to Stay Safe

For more information on how to stay safe during this year’s Thanksgiving, we recommend visiting the CDC website, which lists low risk, moderate risk, and high risk holiday activities.

We do wish everyone a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving!


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Bloodsworth, Emily, and Bailey Craig. “The True History of Thanksgiving.” Veritas News, 16 Nov.


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Kavalhuna, Russ. “What Thanksgiving Means.” Henry Ford College, 26 Nov. 2019,

“The History and Business Behind Black Friday.” Concordia University, St. Paul Online, 25 Nov.


Elliott, Madeleine, and Madeleine Elliott. “A Short History of Black Fridays.” Sound Economics, 17

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