1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine ONeill Grace1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, published in 2001, presents Thanksgiving from a non-traditional (from a U.S. viewpoint) perspective. When I was growing up I don’t believe I gave a thought to whether Native Americans lived on the land that was claimed by the “Pilgrims”. And while I do have a sentimental yearning for the concept of different peoples joining together for a harvest feast, the fact that Massasoit suspected impending military action does seem like a more rational explanation for the presence of the Wampanoags. As for the feast taking place over 3 days, that is very similar to how the Thanksgiving weekend has evolved. And there are even some families who would say that their Thanksgivings resemble the coming together of different peoples with different traditons!
All kidding aside, 1621 provides a thoughtful examination of life for the new colonists and of their impact on the Wampanoag tribe. It goes far beyond Thanksgiving. The fact that the Wampanoags had lived on the Plymouth land for more than 12.000 years by the time these English colonists arrived verges on incomprehensible. I also was under the impression that the Mayflower was, at the very least, among the first of the British ships to arrive to colonize the New World. I did not know that English traders had kidnapped members of the Wampanoag tribe, nor that these pre-Mayflower expeditions were responsible for the plague that killed so many the villlage of Patuxet was abandoned. While we have all heard the tale of Squanto, and how he showed the colonists how to use fish to fertilize their corn, I did not know that he knew English, nor that the reason he knew it was because he had been kidnapped by previous English explorers. I did not know that the original destination of the Mayflower was the mouth of the Hudson River, nor that these colonists stole the stores of Wampanoag food (presumably having been stored for the winter).
While I appreciate all of this information, this book seems geared more to adults than to children. The level of language and complexity of structure leads me to this conclusion, In which case I must take issue with the discussion of the use of the word Thanksgiving to describe the holiday. While the comparison of the religious celebrations which constituted a Thanksgiving to those of a harvest feast are interesting, I don’t believe this an appropriate criticism of the evolution of the holiday. Certainly, by the time President Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving, the religious tones of Thanksgiving had lessened. Also, Veteran’s Day was not originally called Veteran’s Day. And Memorial Day was to remember those who had died, on both sides, of the Civil War. My point is that many of our national holidays have evolved.
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“1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving” Book
Countering the prevailing, traditional story of the first Thanksgiving, with its black-hatted, silver-buckled Pilgrims; blanket-clad, be-feathered Indians; cranberry sauce; pumpkin pie; and turkey This picture book was put together by the Plimouth Plantation living history museum and consists of long informative text blocks--about the Wampanoag people, the English settlers at what they called, On the fourth Thursday in November, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving by sharing a traditional feast with our family and friends.
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But if, like me, you struggle a little bit this time of year to balance your joy in Thanksgiving which is my favorite holiday with complicated feelings about its origins and mythology, not to mention how this holiday feels to Native American people, this is a great book to start those important conversations with your children. The photographs in this book are gorgeous. And I especially loved the recipe pages, where a traditional Wampanoag recipe is printed opposite what we think of as a traditional Colonial recipe. I think it offers a valuable perspective shift and a way to better appreciate the historical context of the Thanksgiving holiday. Here's a Thanksgiving readaloud that considers the Native American perspective in a thoughtful, family friendly way.