Once Upon a Thanksgiving

What we can learn from that first celebration

Once Upon a Thanksgiving Family togetherness, turkey feasts, and sharing an “attitude of gratitude” are wonderful Thanksgiving traditions that allow us to take time out from our hectic lives and celebrate all that we’re so appreciative of. This year, I’d like to suggest adding a few new components to that tradition, ones that help to refocus us outward, not just inward toward our own dining room tables.


irst, I’m a big believer in looking outward toward your own community, and taking positive action in ways that are meaningful and appropriate for your family and your children’s ages. Invite anyone who will be alone at Thanksgiving to join your family’s celebration. Spend a day during the holiday weekend volunteering for a local organization. Help an elderly neighbor put up holiday decorations—and have the kids contribute some handmade decorations of their own for that purpose!

Second, encourage your children to do a little time-travel. There are many things we don’t know about the first “Thanksgiving” meal (which didn’t go by that name and probably didn’t take place in November) in 1621. But we do know that the Pilgrim settlers at Plymouth and more than 90 of the Wampanoag people spent three days together feasting and celebrating a successful harvest. This offers a wonderful teachable moment for children, who can use their imaginations to travel back 400 years and picture themselves on both sides of that experience. I recommend using as a guide the children’s interactive Thanksgiving experience on the website of the living history Plimoth Plantation center (spelled the way 17th-century Governor William Bradford spelled it).

What might a Pilgrim child have been thinking and feeling as she left her familiar home in Europe and traveled across the ocean in a small, cramped ship for three months, fighting seasickness and squashed in among 100 other people? What might a Pilgrim boy have seen from the deck of the ship as it finally approached the shore of this “wild” new country? What did that girl wonder as she watched the Wampanoag people help the Pilgrims plant crops and join the harvest celebration?

And what might a Wampanoag child have felt as he witnessed the Mayflower sailing toward the shore of his native land? What would a Wampanoag girl have made of the strangely bearded faces of the men, their complicated clothing, and their unfamiliar habits? Might there have been fear, distrust, and curiosity on both sides? And what kind of strength and courage did it take for the two sides to come together and communicate, even signing a treaty of cooperation?

Now, more than ever, I think it’s vital that we to talk to our children about the lessons we can learn from all of this: how it’s so important to try to get to know and understand people who are different from us in some way. How we need to cooperate and pull together for the good of all of us. And how everyone is entitled to a seat at the table.

I’d like to suggest that, on a regular basis, we all reach out to people whose experience is different from our own. I think you’ll be amazed by how much you can learn—and how much more there is to be thankful for.

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About Denise

About DeniseDenise Daniels is a Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist, parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children.

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