Thanksgiving. It’s about family. It’s about gathering “together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” as we sing in our all-American, non-denominational, way. It’s about those mysterious Pilgrims, who toggle in our minds between being religious fanatics and cute cartoon characters—although you wonder how they kept their black and white outfits so crisp and clean on the frontier. And it’s about food. What’s Thanksgiving without those autumnal yummies: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie.
But our historical understanding of the holiday’s origins are as mashed up as our sweet potatoes. We blur Pocahontas, Captain John Smith, Squanto, and William Bradford, and the Mayflower into one geographically inaccurate, timeless mess. And while we believe we are replicating the Pilgrims’ menu, they probably ate seal and lobster without sweet desserts, because their sugar stocks were depleted. Least appetizing of all, some of our settler forbears were so hungry, so depraved by starvation that rather than consuming that Norman Rockwell-esque beautifully browned turkey, they ate chops of human cheek and chunks of human tongue.
Consider the colonist who mistook his pregnant wife for a meal. Although his name is lost to history, his story helps illuminate the mishmash that has become America’s Thanksgiving tale. While some will use it to pillory the colonists as brutes, it actually highlights their achievements. Not only did they survive unbearable conditions and launch this great adventure called America, but amid all the misery they taught an invaluable lesson we should remember as we adjust to living in Trumpland: Don’t forget to appreciate the good and say thanks, even when trouble strikes.