Thanksgiving myths to debate with family

For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time to eat lots of food and give thanks for the good things in our lives.

Indians-Pilgrims-MemeI give thanks for the usual stuff — a great wife, a good job and amazing good looks — but also for easy access to the Internet. With my pocket computer (aka phone) I can easily look up information and annoy people I disagree with.

Thanks to Facebook and misleading Internet memes posted by friends, I Google quite often.

A current, popular meme reminded me of the commonly held belief that Pilgrims settled in the New World because they were fleeing religious persecution.

That’s not true.

In about 1609, Pilgrims (who were called “Brownists”) fled to Holland because they wanted to be separate from the Church of England. After a brief period in Amsterdam they settled in the city of Leiden and, for 12 years, lived in peace and harmony. Then, the Pilgrim leadership in Holland (including future Gov. William Bradford) decided to take a gamble on a trip to the Americas. They wanted to create a place where hard work would pay off more quickly and their children would be surrounded by a more conservative religious and English culture.

You’ve probably seen the meme that got me thinking. It’s a cartoon depicting the presumable first meeting between a Pilgrim and a Native American, who humorously says “Sorry but we’re not accepting refugees.”

The intent of the cartoon, according to everyone posting it, is that Americans should be more accepting of Syrian refugees because Indians were accepting of our Pilgrim forefathers.

I initially gave a chuckle when seeing it. Then it started to bug me.

The problem with the meme is that while some Indians were tolerant of Europeans, those Indians quickly lost everything. To me, the meme would make more sense if posted by those who believe the U.S. should protect its borders and have stricter immigration policies.

Thanksgiving is full of myths, here are a few you can argue about over turkey:

Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving? Yes, our holiday is descended from the Pilgrims’ meal, but people sometimes forget the Spaniards were in North America first. There were Thanksgiving type meals in Florida and Texas attended by settlers and Indians before the Mayflower’s voyage. In the English-speaking area, settlers near Jamestown held a Thanksgiving feast in 1619. The Pilgrims’ story got all the street cred thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale, author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” who pushed President Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday as a way to heal the nation after the Civil War.

Pilgrims ate turkey? Probably not. We do know they ate deer, “wild fowl” and corn. They didn’t have cranberries, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes or HoneyBaked Hams on the table. The “wild fowl” was probably ducks or geese, or maybe even the now-extinct passenger pigeon. They may also have eaten eels and shellfish, such as lobster, clams and mussels. They may have had native pumpkins, but they certainly didn’t have pies, which would have required butter and wheat. In other words, the Pilgrims likely celebrated with meat and a side of meat. Wild turkey existed in Pilgrim times, but the big bird did not take center stage at the U.S. holiday until the aforementioned Hale said it was essential.

The Indians and Pilgrims were buddies? According to descendants of the local Indian tribe, the Pilgrims celebrated like my neighbors celebrate the New Year — with gunfire. This attracted the Indians, who were probably not invited to dinner. They may have shared some food, but it is unlikely Pilgrims shared their table with people they considered savages. The Pilgrims didn’t begin having an annual Thanksgiving celebration until 1636, when Indian villages were burnt in retaliation for a murder. By 1678, the settlers of New England wiped out the native population.

While we are eating turkey and watching football, Native Americans will gather near Plymouth for a National Day of Mourning.

I can’t say I blame them.

 


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