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The First Thanksgiving Wasn’t About the Turkey…

posted on: Nov 23, 2016

A portrait of the First Thanksgiving in 1621. Image Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

BY: Julia Jahanpour/Ambassador Blogger

Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Do the values it represents still exist in American homes? We gather together every November, pumpkin pie in hand, to be with loved ones and appreciate that for which we are thankful. Family and food are phenomenal reasons to celebrate a holiday, but where are the feelings of acceptance and generosity towards others that made the first feast possible?

Nearly 400 years ago, a strong-willed group of religiously oppressed individuals sailed to the U.S. with high spirits to find freedom and economic hope. Landing in a location much farther north than they had intended, the Pilgrims began establishing their home in the new world.  Their first winter was rough beyond measure. They endured brutal temperatures, starvation, disease, and scurvy. By spring, over half of the original 102 passengers had died.

The settlers began moving ashore, where they were greeted by Squanto – a remarkable Native American who had been sold into slavery, escaped to freedom in London, and returned home to modern-day Massachusetts. He, along with other natives, embraced the newcomers, welcoming them with hospitality and generosity. The Natives showed the Pilgrims how to successfully cultivate crops in this unfamiliar land. Because of the kindness the Pilgrims received, a plentiful harvest greeted them that following November.

Historians say that Squanto visited the Pilgrims to offer dried herring and let them know that the great sachem, or king, of the Wampanoag wanted to meet with them.

Whether the details we know about the first feast are entirely accurate or not, the sentiment remains that if it were not for the compassion and assistance from the Natives, the foreign travelers would have starved. In the U.S. today, there is an astounding lack of acceptance for outside cultures and those seeking refuge. People fleeing persecution because of their faith, a lack of equality amongst sexes, terrorism, and much more, come to America with the hopes of living a better life. Some of the issues they face are the same as those faced by the Pilgrims 396 years ago. Should these new refugees not be given the same embrace?

America, as we know it, is the result of immigration. There are many key debate points regarding the effects on the economy and community from immigration and welcoming refugees, but the issue of how they are treated and embraced by the American public is unrelated to economic concerns. Nearly 70,000 refugees were admitted into the United States in 2014. Many of those people experienced hatred, violence, and prejudice because of their religion, ethnic background, traditions, and more. There appears to be a strong trend of division present in America. The hopeful people, longing to live on the soil of a country that promises liberty and justice for all, are left disparaged.

This Thanksgiving, there will be nearly 85,000 refugees living in the U.S. While families across the country gather together for good food, football, and a festive holiday spirit, those refugees will be giving thanks for the opportunity to experience freedom and happiness just as those Pilgrims had years before. When asking yourselves for what you are thankful, why not try embracing the love and generosity, shown by the original inhabitants of this country, to those on the same pursuit for a better life as you? Let this Thanksgiving bring back the message of unity and love.