When it’s about the food: Thanksgiving, decolonization, and stories embedded in land and food

Sara Jolena Wolcott, M.Div.
22 min readNov 22, 2023

“What if it’s really just about food and family and football?” a friend asked me not so long ago. “What if it is not really about America’s origin story, or rather, for most families and communities, the whole, “Pilgrims and Indians” Story, a story that has a lot of false truths to it?”

We were talking about (of course?) Thanksgiving.

I’ve been dwelling with the question, how do we decolonize Thanksgiving/do Thanksgiving differently, for several years. This includes researching, listening, writing, and re-storying things differently. Moments of shock, grief, confusion, despair, curiosity, and loss. In the last two years, my partner, an indigenous woman, and I have been speaking at events and co-teaching courses on this topic.

None of which I ever thought I would do. Prior to entering my own spiritual journey of decolonization, in which I recognized the imperative of a decolonial pathway to our collective capacity to survive climate change, and live in hopefully better relationships with people and land and water, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. Not a lot of commercialization; something (I thought) everyone could participate in; and, well, it was all about food and friends and family. I’m not much of a football person, but I appreciate the value of serious play. So, when I started hearing about the pressure to change Thanksgiving, I balked. Mess with my fav holiday? No way!

I’ve been through a big shift in the last ten years. “Staying in the trouble,” is, afterall, so important. After the many books, films, individual perspectives, webinars, and dialogues that I’ve listened to and participated in, I am confident in saying… this holiday complex and messy…. And that’s ok.

I admit, I sympathise with the desire to take a break from politics and historical and contemporary trauma and ‘just’ spend time with family and friends and food and games… and gratitude.

Except that is not what we’ve been given to work with.

And food, well, food has such profound multiplicity of meanings.

So let’s get into some of that. The holiday. And the food. And the land. And the spirit.

Cuz food is always closely connected to land, no matter how often we are tricked into forgetting that.

Food, Faith, and Continuing Revelations

Like so many others, I am hearing the beckoning call of Spirit to live and create the possibility of living differently in relationship to all beings. That call means I must engage with what I have inherited.

As a religious/spiritual leader/guide/helper/minister, part of the work is to take the holidays that are part of my tradition/which I actively engage with and re-interpret them for the times I live in.

Thanksgiving is very much part of the stream of holidays that I have inherited from my religious, familial, and national ancestors.

It is one of many holidays that we need to re-imagine.

Re-imagining a holiday/feast day is far more difficult than it sounds. It is not done in a single online event, or a talk, or by reading a book, or by experimenting with one day of the year. This kind of re-imagining takes years and lots and lots of people and lots of events and lots of cooking and lots of protests and lots of exploration.

But here’s part of what I find so hopeful: decolonization is a spiritual process. I believe and am part of a spiritual tradition that upholds the truth of continual revelation. So much good is to come; so much is yet to be revealed. So much healing is happening and can still happen: for the land, for the peoples, for the food.

Thanksgiving has deep religious roots. Indeed, in the late 1800s, after it became a national holiday, the Catholic Church referred to it as a protestant celebration and refused to honor it. And it has meant very different things at different times. “A Thanks Giving Day”/ “Thanks Day” was a solemn occaision of prayer for most of European Christiandom. It would often be held after a victory in battle, as would a Thanksgiving Proclamation. And native peoples have long had a strong tradition of gratitude and of giving thanks, as well as harvest festivals in late Autumn. But these two cultures thought about gratitude and thanks-giving in very different ways; and both of those are different than how we think about Thanksgiving Day (and gratitude) in 2023.

Across these traditions, there is often some common recognition:

Food is sacred. Land is sacred.

Humans living together with any resemblance of peace? A total miracle.

Thanksgiving as a film: a possible metaphor

Sometimes I describe Thanksgiving using the metaphor of a movie. The film was initially produced in the mid-1800s, to showcase to Americans and (immigrants) to immigrants who America was — a people who can and do come together around food, family, and faith (and, soon, football). Some of the footage used went back to the 1600s. It was conceptualised, written, produced, edited and distributed by a small group of mostly protestant, upper middle class white settlers, mostly from New England. These were individuals, such as Sally Josepha Hale, who were actively shaping American culture, especially for women — family life, holidays, narratives, food, traditions — through women’s magazines, cookbooks, novels, editorials, and public holidays. They actively intersected with politicians such as Abe Lincoln. But it was in this fuzzy space of culture and identity, where so many political wars play themselves out, that this holiday developed.

The metaphor is limited. Unlike movies, Thanksgiving is not simply viewed. It is a ritual that entails various forms of re-enactment. It is re-enacted in children’s Thanksgiving Pageants… and the dinner table itself. Over time, Thanksgiving Day Parades, charity work, marathons, football games, and other embodied activities have also become part of the ritual. As with any ritual, the embodied, emotionally-charged dimensions of this holiday is part of why it is so powerful and has such a complex set of meanings attached to it. Rituals are powerful: generation after generation, they need and deserve our attention..

To go back to the movie-metaphor, part of where we are right now is recognizing that the original production crew ignored A LOT of the documentary footage. So much footage that they got the story all wrong.

Or rather, they told the story that they wanted to tell, a story that served their purpose at the time. At best, it was a fictional story inspired by a few real events. At worse, it was a blatant fiction (aka a lie) propaganda piece that pretended to be a real documentary film and then insisted that everyone watch it, not question it, and celebrate it as “Truth”.

To do so, they created new footage through their best mediums of that time: paintings and illustrations. Then they re-played it, in a lot of different but very similar ways. The story was told so often that it became normalized and people believed it was real.

Most of the people in the original footage — native peoples, especially the Wampanoag Indians — were not allowed to come into the editing room.

Over the last fifty years, especially since the beginning of the Day of Mourning gatherings which started in 1970 and continue to this day, that has begun to change. Calls for a national day of mourning have significantly increased. There is increasing awareness of that the ‘film’ and the ritual of Thanksgiving is based on multiple false premises.

Progressive organizations are trying to figure out how to send out Thanksgiving messages that somehow balance between “genuine gratitude for your business and participation” and “yeah this is a really complicated holiday cuz of genocide, etc etc.” A lot of the time I don’t think organizations are going deep enough into what happened and what needs to happen. No surprise, really: most organizations are swamped and overworked, and the pressure of figuring out what might work better for society as a whole doesn’t happen with coherence.

And so we are in a time when we are beginning to go back to the editing room. We are beginning to reassess the footage. More people — from many different backgrounds, including the Wampanoag -are offering commentary; pulling out forgotten footage; adding contemporary voices and images. It’s a great time to be engaging with the momentous question of, ‘what do we do with this holiday that we have inherited’? Because of course this conversation is no longer just a European-Indian conversation. But that’s the conversation set the pattern.

Yes, its complex. As with any meaningful ritual, there is a lot going on. False histories… and true histories. Habits and food patterns. Deep emotional connections. Core human needs: for gatherings, for harvest celebrations, for sharing food, for family, for rest, for play. For time off… together. For a moment to mark the shifting of the season, and the beginning of the end of the year. For giving thanks.

What does it mean to center the food?

Food is not always just food.

Food is a doorway. A doorway into who we are and how we are.

Food is a doorway to land: to the soil from which it comes; land management; the health of our soils and of our ecosystems; the well-being of the people who grow the food and pick it and compost/trash it. Of the horrors of factory-farmed turkeys and the wonders of pumpkin patches and the complex histories of canned condensed milk and canned cranberry sauce.

Food is a doorway into the heart: Grandma’s apple pie recipe and Aunt Denise’s sweet potato casserole. Sometimes those dishes are the only ways we know how to connect with relatives: because they have passed and the dishes are all that are left; because they are halfway around the world; because we can’t stand to actually talk to them but we still miss them. Because families tear themselves apart as well as hold themselves together, and around the stove, both things can happen at the same time.

Food is a doorway to ourselves as collective beings: to our dependence on one another; to our needs and our vulnerabilities; to our socialization and our society. It creates social boundaries (a religious group might define itself based on not eating certain foods, like pork) and places for social inclusion. How much and in what ways we eat is riddled with social, ethical, and moral judgements. Eating together around a table/a fire/a hotpot is one of the oldest ways that humans come together. And sometimes, fall apart.

The foods of Thanksgiving are foods of a particular place and a story of a particular place. Cranberries don’t grow in California; I never grew up with cranberries in apple cider, though it is more common on the East Coast, where cranberries are more common As are the stories of those who have picked them, who are, often, from other parts of the world.

Of course, there are the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash. How can we eat succotash and not tell stories of the native peoples who bred, cultivated, and cooked these foods for generations before Europeans, Africans, and people from all over the world came here, by choice and by force?

And there we go — right back to wondering at beginnings. At what came before. About the seeds before these seeds that tumble out of squash and hold promises of a future where we can keep eating all winter long.

Food leads us everywhere because food is connected to everything. And it will certainly, eventually, lead us to wonder where do we, and where does the food itself, come from.

To what happened to the people who grew corn beans and squash.

Feasting… and the loss of indigenous foodways

First things first: those people are still here. Don’t talk about them only in the past tense.

As my partner, who has spent much of her life on the Tuscarora Reservation, recently said, “It’s so weird to have a holiday that is supposedly all about you, but you are still rendered invisible, both in the holiday and in much of life.

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, roughly 25% of its native peoples are food insecure. 20% of black households have food insecurity. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 1 in 9 people living with food insecurity. Other health inequities mirror these trends: diabetes is a near epidemic in most native communities.

Which is not “their fault.” Those statistics are there by design. People were forced off their own land, where they had developed healthy (generally better than contemporary American diets) foodways and diets that supported their own culture and their ecosystems. Those who survived were given government rations that took away nutrition, tradition, and dignity. It was really terrible. It was designed to destroy the people. So that “Americans” (generally conceptualized then as settlers from Europe) could have all this rich land, fertile soil, and beautiful rivers.

In this context, what do we mean by Thanksgiving? What are we ‘thankful’ for? That ‘we’ (settler America? White America?) are thankful that we have all these great foods…. Even if/when the descendents of the people who helped our ancestors do not? Do we still delude ourselves into thinking that by eating the pumpkin and the turkey and beans and the corn we might be ‘celebrating’ Native foods…. even as Native people continue to be marginalized and denied access to their own foods? What are we celebrating, here?

I don’t think most people give it that much thought. Which is part of the problem.

Not just food, but foodways…

Not only are there grave health inequities, but most of the indigenous foodways have been forced into disappearance. Some traditional foods are close to extinction. Others are abundant, but not accessible to native peoples. Others are available, but hard to cultivate, or contemporary land use and property systems make it very difficult to access.

To try to express the complexity of ‘food’ (ie, more than just what is on your plate at a given meal), more scholars and activists are talking about “foodways.” There is a wonderful growth of thinking about traditional foodways these days, often in regionally-specific contexts that intertwine the myth and nutrition and farming and eating.

Arizona State University includes in their exploration of indigenous foodways the concept of cosmogenealogy:

“which explains how Indigenous Peoples are direct descendants of their first foods, where these relationships are explained in creation stories. This cultural memory is maintained through traditions that continue to protect and pay respect to first foods. This places first foods not only as ancestors, but as relatives.”

Indigenous foodways include both traditional foods as well as ways of tending the land and waterways, from oceans to rivers. It includes the rich cultural and spiritual stories and life patterns intersecting with the cultivation of food, including the forests and “wild” landscapes.

I talked about some of the values and practices within these foodways in my recent podcast episode with Dr Lyla June Johnston, who recently completed her PhD dissertation looking at indigenous foodways. In her brilliant way, she titled her work, “Architects of Abundance,” and strongly critiqued the contemporary trend of assuming that humans inherently harm their environment. Instead, she shows how people have also co-created entire systems of abundance.

Like so many other aspects of indigenous culture, indigenous foodways are in the process of being revitalized. I live in New York, so I’ll use an example from this state, but these examples can be found across the United States.

In an effort to revitalize the 1,400-year-old heirloom white corn that has been so essential to the Haudenosaunnee People, several elders co-created the White Corn Project. It is currently hosted at Gonondagan, just outside of Rochester. If you live in or are traveling through Rochester, I strongly recommend visiting Gonondagan and the Seneca Art and Cultural Center, which is the only NY State historic center dedicated to Native peoples.

According to Jeannette Jemison (Mohawk, Snipe Clan), the Friends of Ganondagan Program Director who currently helps to steward the White Corn project,” The mission of the White Corn Project is to encourage Haudenosaunee farmers to grow the corn and for people in our communities to eat it for more than just special occasions or ceremonial use, making it something they eat every day,”

There is a powerful testimony of what is possible in these revitalizations. Angel Jimerson, Seneca, Heron Clan, and the Ganondagan White Corn Production Manager, says:

“For me, White Corn is a teacher, it has taught me patience, acceptance, resourcefulness, gratitude, and mindfulness. Our ancestors teach us when working with the corn you have to have a ‘good mind’. In working with others, I teach them to have the same respect for the corn, so those good thoughts will go further seeping into their daily lives.”

This is a great time of year to learn about and find ways of supporting these kinds of projects.

When this holiday is …. not about this holiday

Here’s something I keep hearing from many different sources: Thanksgiving is not just about Thanksgiving. The issues at stake here, of where we come from and how and where we are from, need to be addressed all year round.

It’s helpful if we step back and look at the year as a whole.

How are we re-storying our relationship with native peoples (including our own native heritage if that is something we have) all year round? How are we engaging with Indigenous Peoples Day; Fourth of July; with school pageants and mascots and MMIW? How are we engaging with how history is taught?

Americans put a lot of weight on Thanksgiving to carry and sometimes even transform something that is actually happening and going on all year round: the continued erasure of indigenous peoples' experiences. Shifting the larger narratives, especially in schools and the ways in which immigrants (and visitors) learn US history, will help make it easier to edit the ‘movie’ that is Thanksgiving. From land acknowledgments to landback to telling different historical stories to make contemporary global connections, there is a lot that can be said.

And for this holiday? A few suggestions

Perhaps one of the ironies is that in a lot of families, this holiday can be hard to shift because the sheer effort of cooking and bringing people together and watching football is often all we have time for in a single Thursday afternoon, crammed into a busy week of school and work and cleaning and prepping and then there is the rush towards holiday gift-buying. People are exhausted.

Exhaustion is not really the best place to start a conversation about traumatic histories the lies your teacher told you and the need to change the whole system right now.

Dinner table conversations sometimes need to just be dinner table conversations.

One of the reasons my partner and I started to teach a class around doing Thanksgiving differently was because we recognized how hard it was to shift the day if you just focused on the day itself and left it all to the last minute. It can easily backfire. It helps to be engaged (at least) all month long. Some of the most important work, such as changing the Thanksgiving Pageant at your local school, will take months of planning with teachers and parents.

Regardless of if that is you…. What can you do about Thanksgiving this year, that’s not just about the rest of the year, but also about this week, and this moment, and this holiday, where family is gathering whilst some parts of the world are at war, and lots of hearts are tender, and lots of conversations are difficult to have, connected to, including, and in addition to this one?

  1. Offering a land acknowledgment (not a bad start) and sinking into various forms of prayers of thanksgiving.

What happened where you are?

2. Re-viewing a few basic historical ‘scenes’:

By the time the Mayflower landed, the Wampanoag peoples were well familiar with Europeans, as European ships had been trading, exploring, and stealing Native peoples for about a century up and down the Atlantic seaboard.

The gathering now referenced as the First Thanksgiving (in 1621) was not called that by the people of that time. It was referred to as the Days of Rejoicing. It was rather spontaneous and occurred only after months of diplomacy between the Wampanoag and the English. There were likely no women or children present. There was likely no big outdoor table — or tablecloth. There were over 90 Wampanoag warriors and a handful of English Puritan men (only 51 Puritans had survived the first winter). There were most likely only a few women (only four Puritan women were alive during that time). Most likely, both sides said long prayers and played games together. A treaty had been forged. That treaty — and just about every subsequent treaty between the two peoples — was subsequently broken by the English.

One of the earliest Thanksgiving Proclamations happened later — several years later. In 1637, there was a massacre against the Pequot people by the English settlers in Mystic, CT. They shot, clubbed, and burned alive over 700 native men, women, and children. William Bradford subsequently held a “Day of Thanksgiving” in Plymouth and issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation. According to how “Thanksgiving” was understood at that time, as a solemn day of prayer, there would have been no feasting… and certainly no ball games.

There is no way the English or any other Europeans could have survived on this continent without the help and active support of the indigenous peoples. Even after the “Great Dying”, the Native peoples still politically, economically, and practically were in charge of this land. Some alliances, friendships, marriages, and moments of mutual understanding did occur.

The European powers at the time were fully aware that the multiple Indian nations in what was for them a new world were fully sovereign nations. They sought treaties with them as sovereign nations.

Never, ever, did Native peoples lie down and give over their land to the Europeans with a smile. Nor was it “fairly won” in battle. Most of the time, the land was stolen/cheated and forced into forms of displacement by sovereign people who knew how to care for it and had done so for generations of generations.

America’s history looks different from different places. Thanksgiving in California, thus, was deeply tied to the formation of the State itself — something that happened after the vast majority of the many, many tribes of California had been largely pushed off of their own land and/or killed. Tribes in California are actively rematriating some of that land today.

That moment of fellowship? It can still happen. Sometimes, it does emerge.

As we stumble and sometimes learn how to get towards places of conciliation and fellowship and sharing and rejoicing together, we are all still eating. Differently than our ancestors did, yes. Often, that high-sugar, high-processed “normal American diet” makes us quite sick.

Which leads to the next suggestion for this Thanksgiving:

3. Invite your guests to share the histories about a food they bring to the table

This is a relatively easy and powerful invitation. Take one food — say, pumpkin pie -and look into its history. Where do the ingredients originally come from? Where does it come from today? What’s the history of this food (ie, the whole dish, not just the ingredients), and how did it become important/a favourite in your life? Most dishes will reveal their own complex histories — of colonization and trade and family feuds and hope

4. Turn the dinner table into a time of reflection and remembrance.

Though not for everyone, this can be a really powerful gathering. If you are planning to do this, I do encourage you to tell your guests ahead of time that this is happening.

Remember: Grief and Gratitude can go together in very powerful and meaningful ways.

Caveat: for many families, time with food is not time to engaging in these kinds of dialogues. In our household, we tend towards heavier conversations in other spaces. When we are with food, we respect the food: hot, generous, offering its life to us. But we make sure those other spaces exist — and we are not asking too much of the dinner table.

5. Give funds, volunteer time, and other forms of resources to Native-led organisations, media outlets, and initiatives doing settler-indigenous healing work

6. If it is likely that difficult conversations will emerge, have a plan.

For many, family gatherings can elicit family feuds. There are a lot of resources out there about dealing with family feuds during the holidays. Come prepared.

7. Look at your own family histories.

Where do they intertwine with national histories, especially around Thanksgiving?

To support this, I’ve created this linear timeline history of Thanksgiving, below.

Creating better stories — includes with and around food

Given the sheer importance of food, I’m not surprised that the children’s book, “Keepunumuk: Weeachumun’s Thanksgiving Story”, a story of the first Thanksgiving from a Native American perspective, written by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten centers food so much.

Not food only as something to be consumed. Or food as medicine. But the plants and animals as living beings who have their own part in the story, a voice that is so rarely heard. It is a sweet and beautiful book. At the end, the authors offer recipes and suggestions for incorporating feeding the ancestors into your Thanksgiving celebration.

As with so many aspects of engaging with these histories and the complex questions of re-crafting harvest festivals, I am impressed with the different cords that are being played.

Interlaced with grief and the rage and the need to do things differently is an invitation. Here, think about food this way. Try this dish. Engage with the land in this other way. Not the way you grew up thinking was the way to engage, but the way this land remembers.

There is an invitation of fellowship, comradership, and friendship that is deep in the story of Thanksgiving. It is a hope that my ancestors and their friends and colleagues and collaborators and the society that they created have bashed, brutalized, and torn asunder thousands and thousands of times since my ancestors first set foot on these lands. So many promises have been broken.

And yet there are places that still grow squash and beans and corn all together. The plants still offer up seeds — so many seeds. As if to remind us humans: you can do better than this. You, settlers, can still learn. Today, everyday, you can give thanks. And you can do what your ancestors were not able to do.

A somewhat brief history of Thanksgiving: A linear Timeline

Note: I created a longer version of this timeline for a Thanksgiving article I wrote in 2022. This one is shorter and includes more moments from California.

This timeline is attempting to intertwine: US history, Wampanoag and other northeast woodland peoples history, some Western/Californian history, some food and football history.

1497 — an exploration of Atlantic Canada and the beginning of the fish/cod trade in Newfoundland to feed Europe (initially by John Cabot/English, also French); initial approach informed by the Doctrine of Discovery

1524: Southern New England/Wampanoag people begin to have interactions with Europeans (Dutch, English, French)

1604, an English explorer captured Tisquantum, who came to be known as Squanto and brought him and several others to England, where he and others stayed and learned English, returning in 1614.

1607: Jamestown — first English settlement in Virginia

1616–1619: The Great Dying: Horrific epidemic (probably not only smallpox) devastated Wampanoag communities up and down the coast. Entire villages died.

1620 (December): Mayflower landed in the area the Wampanoag called Patuxet; Pilgrims raid graveyards

1621: Spring: Wampanoag sachem Ousamequin reached out to pilgrims and began the process of brokering a complex multi-cultural alliance, and effectively brought the English into their political and economic system of governance, foodways, local politics, and cultural exchanges.

1621: A somewhat spontaneous three- day Feast between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag men; described in Pilgrim diaries as Days of Rejoicing. At the time, this was not referred to as a “Thanksgiving.”

1637: Massacre against the Pequot peoples by the English settlers in Mystic, CT. They shot, clubbed and burned alive over 700 native men, women and children. William Bradford subsequently holds a “Day of Thanksgiving” in Plymouth and issues a Thanksgiving Proclamation

1650: the first revolutionary war on what is now American soil against a European power was the Pueblo people against the Spaniards in what is known as the Pueblo Revolt. The Pueblo people, led by Pope (Po-pay), won control of Santa Fe.

1675–1676: King Philip’s War/Pumetacom’s wars: deeply harm the Wampanoag peoples.

1680: the town of Eastham on the outer Cape prohibited the Nauset Wampanoag from gathering pine knots, tar, and cutting wood on the town commons (as was their custom): symbolic of persistent denial of Wampanoag to their traditional land and food-ways.

1769: “Forefathers Day” Celebrations begin in the “Old Colony Club” of Plymouth, New England to celebrate the landing of the Pilgrims in 1621 (on dec 22); the succatosh dish is a big part of this

1769: An article by Rev Alex Young includes a footnote (the first such mention) that mentions a dinner and reads: “This was the first Thanksgiving, the great festival of New England.”

1769: First Spanish Mission in California — San Diego de Alcala

1776: Declaration of Independence

1789: George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation

1794: Mashpee children continue to serve as bound labourers; 100 of 242 Aquinnah Wampanoags live far away from home as servants to whale men; an estimated 5 of 13 whalemen from Nantucket were Native.

1796 — first American cookbook, American Cookery. Includes several recipes for Thanksgiving dishes, including turkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing with bread, eggs, thyme, marjoram, salt, pepper, and pies (including mince and apple) and pumpkin and “Indian pudding.”

1821: Mexico achieves Independence from Spain; in Alta California, Missions continued control over indigenous peoples and most of California from four main missions (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco), around which the settlements of California grew.

1823: Johnson v McIntosh supreme court case embeds the Doctrine of Discovery into U.S. law and invalidates Indian claim to land. The original case comes out of the midwest/Indiana area.

1823: Completion of Eerie Canal in NY — a major engineering feat that negatively impacted the historic waterways of the Haudenosaunee (aka Mohawk river) and their traditional trading routes as well as forcing thousands of people to move and loose 80,000 acres.

1827: Sally Josepha Hale’s Northwood antislavery novel devotes a detailed chapter to the New England Thanksgiving dinner, which features the turkey.

1830: Indian Removal Act — leads to, amidst others removals, the Trail of Tears

1850: California becomes a State and the first official California Thanksgiving Proclamation.

1850s: Mass logging of old growth redwoods to build CA’s “development”, especially San Francisco

1850s/1860s: First wave of Chinese immigration to California for both the Gold Rush and the CA Pacific Railroad; most Chinese immigrants experienced intense discrimination

1861–1865: US Civil War

1861: Confederate president Jefferson Davis called for a day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of the month for his troops for solemn reflection and prayer.

1862: Dakota 38: largest mass execution in U.S. history: Dakota indigenous leaders executed by Abe Lincoln the day after Christmas

1863: Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation; he subsequently hosts a Thanksgiving Dinner at the whitehouse

1879: Opening of the Carlisle Indian School for assimilation of Indian children/ culture destruction

The late 1800s and early 1900s: “golden age of Thanksgiving” when Thanksgiving was idolized in imagery, including a wide range of thanksgiving greeting cards; the close relationship between football and Thanksgiving and “turkey trots”/long-distance running; the publication of Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook which lauded the Thanksgiving dinner.

1907: the city of Fall River in MA focuses on “the last Wampanoag family living on what was left of the Watuppa reservation to vacate in order to make way for a reservoir.”

1924: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

1943: Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving dinner painting, Freedom from Want

1970: Day of Mourning held by some Native folks at Plimoth; grows annually

1978: Indian Religious Freedom Act, enabling native people to legally practice their own ceremonies

1990s Wampanoag Jessie Little Doe Baird revitalise the Wampanoag language via linguistics at MIT; the language is now taught in Mashpee High School

2012: Giving Tuesday begins

2020: 400-year anniversary of Plymouth landing, leading both Plymouth Plantation and the Wampanoag community to create a series of online and offline exhibitions and educational programs



Sara Jolena Wolcott, M.Div.

ReMembering and ReEnchanting our world. Retelling Origin Stories and other myths and truths. Entrepreneur, legacy advisor, and unconventional minister. Healing.