A look at why to be thankful.
A Thankful Tradition
As we hold our own celebrations and dinners during the Thanksgiving season, I have taken notice as to the bits of information on the critical side that appear increasingly within the stories and histories on the origins of Thanksgiving. The controversies range from the origins of the holiday, to the long term affects on the Wampanoag tribe in the area in which the Pilgrims landed on Christmas Eve 1620, and finally the effects long term on Native American populations throughout America. Taking a step back to know what it is we are celebrating each Thanksgiving is important to keep in mind no matter what your thoughts or opinions are on the history behind the holiday.
One of the most fascinating people in the story of the first Thanksgiving is Squanto. Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet band of the Wampanoag tribe, whose real name was actually Tisquantum. He was given the name Squanto by the British at some point after he was captured and enslaved by the British Navy around 1614. When he was brought to Spain to be sold, some local Friars took custody of Squanto and the remaining Native Americans, and began to teach Squanto and his fellow Native Americans Christianity. Squanto talked the friars into allowing him to attempt a return home and soon found himself in London. After some time in London with shipbuilder John Slany, Squanto was able to finally return home in 1619 as part of an exploratory expedition to the northern East Coast of America.
What he found upon returning to his village was not a happy ending: he found his village to be vacant as a result of a plague that swept through not only his village, but decimated scores of villages along the coast. Squanto then settled in with a local Wampanoag tribe until the arrival of the Pilgrim’s six months later. After some time, he appeared out of the woods to make his appearance and the colonists must have been surprised to hear English come from this native. One thing to note is that there are conflicting reports as to whether it was Squanto that first approached the Pilgrims, or if it was Samoset.
Nevertheless, Squanto found himself soon living among the Pilgrims in the Plymouth colony. He was instrumental in negotiating a 50 year treaty between the Pilgrims and the neighboring tribes, a treaty that would stand until King Phillip’s War in 1675. He would play a key role as a translator and a negotiator for the Pilgrims dealings with neighboring tribes until his death in 1622 from smallpox. Most importantly, though, was the education he gave to the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims were blessed with an early spring in 1620, and Squanto immediately began to teach them how to hunt, fish, and to cultivate crops in their new home.
The result of Squanto’s teaching and guiding of the Pilgrims resulted in a most bountiful crop. To celebrate their success and to give thanks to God, they planned a feast of thanksgiving. It is not known for sure what the true motives were behind the inviting of the Native Americans to attend the feast, but we do know that groups of people from different cultures intermingled on this day, and were able to put aside personal, or group, feelings towards one another to enjoy the moment of a great harvest together.
There are many lessons to be learned from the first Thanksgiving. Squanto was treated very harshly by Europeans earlier in his life, but was able to put these experiences and memories aside to help the Pilgrims not only to survive, but to prosper. The Native Americans in the vicinity of Plymouth had also already felt the sting of Europeans similar to the experiences of Squanto, and yet were willing to negotiate a peaceful existence, if only for a glimmer of time, with this new group of Europeans that appeared out of nowhere one day.
The participants of the first Thanksgiving demonstrated that the best way to work together, to grow together, and ultimately be thankful together, is to forgive and forget the pains of the past while remembering the lessons that the past can teach us. During this Thanksgiving season, and any season for that matter, make sure to remember to give thanks for the most important people and things in your life, and remember that the best way to show thanks is to give to others. The importance of giving thanks was also made by Gladys Widdiss, a Wampanoag tribal elder: “Every day (is) a day of thanksgiving to the Wampanoag . . .(We) give thanks to the dawn of the new day, at the end of the day, to the sun, to the moon, for rain for helping crops grow. . . There (is) always something to be thankful for. .. Giving thanks comes naturally for the Wampanoag.” (More can be found at http://www.wampanoagtribe.net/Pages/Wampanoag_Education/celebrations).