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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Wilson

A True Thanksgiving

Now that Thanksgiving has passed and we have stuffed ourselves full of turkey, it is time to look back on what Thanksgiving used to be. It seems Thanksgiving has turned into who is making what dish and when do you get to eat, instead of what it once was: a time to give thanks for those around us. Many people, especially the younger generations, do not get taught the Thanksgiving story anymore. So I am here to tell you what Thanksgiving used to be about.

The first Thanksgiving was not a holiday just yet despite celebrating for three days. Instead, it was simply a gathering instead that took place in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. The true idea of Thanksgiving that we come to think of today leaves very little evidence it came fully from this gathering like we were taught as school children, but instead comes from when President Lincon declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, over 200 years after the initial gathering. However, let’s take a look back at this initial gathering between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

The Pilgrims sailed to the United States aboard the Mayflower as the English Separatist Church members to escape religious prosecution. On December 11, 1620, the Pilgrims docked at the famous Plymouth Rock where they had their first devastating winter. They had lost 46 of the 102 people who originally had set sail on the Mayflower by the following fall. However, in the spring of 1621, they had a great harvest. Those who had survived the winter decided to celebrate with a bountiful feast. As we had learned in school, the colonists wanted to thank the natives who had helped them survive the first year of settling. However, unlike what we learned in school, the first feast was more of a traditional English harvest festival instead of a true Thanksgiving like we picture today.

With Thanksgiving having passed, I wanted to know how people spent their holiday and what traditions they had that might relate to the ones from the early Thanksgiving, so I asked a couple of students here at the University of Missouri-St. Louis to learn exactly what they do at Thanksgiving.

One of the students I interviewed was John Granicke who is a first-year student at UMSL working on his degree in Actuarial Science. John will be celebrating Thanksgiving this year with only his immediate family, due to Covid, but normally would go to a family member’s house and have a party. As per usual, he is most excited about the food, which is more or less what this holiday has become about. His favorite Thanksgiving food would have to be mashed potatoes. John can not wait to watch the Macy’s Day Parade and The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Specials that run on that day.

The next person I interviewed was another first-year student who is majoring in Computer Science. His name is Brady Maher. Brady spends his Thanksgiving by going to his Grandmother’s house and eating turkey, mashed potatoes, and other common Thanksgiving food, which is his favorite part about Thanksgiving. While he always goes to his Grandmother’s house, he does not have specific Thanksgiving traditions. His family often eats turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, bread, stuffing, and sometimes ham. While this type of food is very common Thanksgiving food now, it is not what they ate on the first Thanksgiving. While the Pilgrims and Native Americans ate some of the same foods we do like corn and bread, on the first Thanksgiving instead of turkey, they would have eaten fish and pheasant.

Spending time with family and eating is what this holiday has become more about than giving thanks, but the best way to show you are thankful for someone is to be surrounded by them. I hope over Thanksgiving you remembered to give thanks and remember what you are grateful for. This way, we can keep the true story of Thanksgiving alive for even more generations to come.


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