The popular American image of the first Thanksgiving looks a bit like a United Methodist potluck — 17th-century style.
We imagine Pilgrims in funny hats and American Indians in feathery headdresses solemnly bowing their heads in gratitude for God’s bounty before sharing heaping plates of potatoes, corn and, of course, turkey.
It’s a picturesque tableau. And just about everything about it is wrong.
What many Americans call the first Thanksgiving began with a misunderstanding and grew into a myth.
With this year marking the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival in present-day Massachusetts and a renewed focus on U.S. and church racial history, it’s worth exploring both the good — and the bad — of how a U.S. tradition developed.
“Because Thanksgiving is really a national observance, not a directly religious one, it is a splendid occasion to reflect on the actual history of America, not the sentimentalized version,” said the Rev. William B. Lawrence. He is former dean and professor emeritus of American church history at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology.The Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin, a district superintendent of Lakota heritage, has written about Thanksgiving’s history from a Native perspective.