When I was going to the U.W. I had a botany professor who posed this thought provoking question, why since both the United States and Canada celebrate Thanksgiving is there no trace of it in France England, Germany, or Italy. One would think that the First Thanksgiving in the United States would logically be an extension of some practice in Europe.
We have all heard the Thanksgiving myths in elementary school, Mitchel Cohen describes it in less politically correct terms.
These are the Puritans that the Indians “saved”, and whom we celebrate in the holiday, Thanksgiving. Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, a member of the Patuxet Indian nation. Samoset, of the Wabonake Indian nation, which lived in Maine. They went to Puritan villages and, having learned to speak English, brought deer meat and beaver skins for the hungry, cold Pilgrims. Tisquantum stayed with them and helped them survive their first years in their New World. He taught them how to navigate the waters, fish and cultivate corn and other vegetables. He pointed out poisonous plants and showed how other plants could be used as medicines. He also negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and Massasoit, head chief of the Wampanoags, a treaty that gave the Pilgrims everything and the Indians nothing. And even that treaty was soon broken. All this is celebrated as the First Thanksgiving.
The question that come up immediately was, if the Pilgrims were so damn thankful why was the treaty broken followed by centuries of genocide. This is much like the cold hearted miser sending a turkey to his pauper employees and then exploiting them for the rest of the year. The likelihood of this tradition being an extension of some shared European roots is rather small.
While this tradition or ritual may have been new to the pilgrims it was not to the Native American nations surrounding them.
The Algonkian tribes held six thanksgiving festivals during the year. The beginning of the Algonkian year was marked by the Maple Dance which gave thanks to the Creator for the maple tree and its syrup. This ceremony occurred when the weather was warm enough for the sap to run in the maple trees, sometimes as early as February. Second was the planting feast, where the seeds were blessed. The strawberry festival was next, celebrating the first fruits of the season. Summer brought the green corn festival to give thanks for the ripening corn. In late fall, the harvest festival gave thanks for the food they had grown. Mid-winter was the last ceremony of the old year. When the Indians sat down to the “first Thanksgiving” with the Pilgrims, it was really the fifth thanksgiving of the year for them!
In many ways Thanksgiving is one of the few authentically American (land not ideology) holidays. It is a celebration that goes much further back than 1621, which was not the 1st Thanksgiving. Going back to the initial question about why in America and not in Europe. The answer is in our peasantry, or what we have called family farms. The one enduring connection between the Algonkian, Pilgrims, and Thanksgiving is a dependence, connection, and relationship with the land. That is why we celebrate the uniquely American values of gratitude, family, food, sharing, thankfulness, and football.