Between basting the turkey, stirring the sauce, and keeping your little ones' fingers out of the pumpkin pie, it's easy to lose sight of the history behind the Thanksgiving holiday. But don't get caught offguard when your kids quiz you on the facts. Here's a handy cheat sheet to prep you for the big day, as well as some ideas for helping your child think a little more deeply about the meaning, and history, of this beloved holiday:
Who were the pilgrims?
In the winter of 1620, a group of about a hundred people set off for America on a boat called The Mayflower. About half were English religious separatists. They first landed near Provincetown, but eventually settled off the Cape Cod bay, in an area they named Plymouth. Legend has it that they first stepped onto land at a big rock, called Plymouth Rock (however, there is no real evidence of this).
To help your child connect with the story of the pilgrims, encourage her to imagine what it would be like to land on a totally unfamiliar place, after almost two months at sea. Does she think it would have been scary, or exciting? What does she imagine that America would have looked like over 350 years ago?
When was the first Thanksgiving? And why?
After their first harvest, in 1621, the pilgrims celebrated with a big feast. The winter had been hard and many of the settlers had died. The survivors celebrated with a group of Wampanoags, Native Americans who had shared their expertise to help them make it through the harsh winter.
From the very first Thanksgiving, the holiday has celebrated both the bounty of nature, and the hospitality of the Native Americans who welcomed the first Europeans. To help your child see things from a different perspective, ask him to think about things from the Native American's point of view. Were they frightened of the new settlers? How did the two groups first make contact, and how did they learn to work together? It's important to remember that without the help of the Wampanoags, the pilgrims would probably never have survived.
What happens to all the turkeys?
True, turkeys have it hard at Thanksgiving time. But since 1947, one lucky turkey has made it to the White House. Each year the National Turkey Federation delivers several turkeys to the President of the United States. He pardons one of them (and recently, he’s been pardoning two), sending them to live out their days on a peaceful farm in the country.
Although it might be traumatizing for young children to talk about where the turkey comes from, it can be a valuable lesson to discuss where the food you're about to eat originates. Does your child know that potatoes come from under the ground, and that cranberries grow best in bogs? Silly as it may seem, some kids may even find it hard to believe that milk comes from cows!
So, while giving thanks for family and good health, make sure to appreciate the rich history that this holiday represents.