The learner will be able to identify several key facts about the
first American Thanksgiving.
Working in small groups, the learners will create a flannel-board
story about the first Thanksgiving in the United States and will share
that story with another group.
an anticipatory set for the lesson.
“Who can tell me what this picture (a turkey) has to do
with a holiday we will celebrate this month?”
you know who brought the turkeys to the first American
are good guesses. Let’s
listen to a story about the first Thanksgiving to see whose guess
came closest to the truth. Be
prepared to tell me something you learned about the first
Thanksgiving that you didn’t know.”
the following story to your class.
The Story of the First American Thanksgiving
In 1620 a small ship named the Mayflower came to the
United States, which was then an English colony.
The people on this ship were Englishmen known as Pilgrims and
were among the first Europeans to settle the eastern part of our
country. They were Puritans
who did not wish to break away from the Church of England.
Arriving on the bleak, rocky Massachusetts coast in December 1620
in a place called Plymouth, the sick and weak settlers had to spend the
winter in extreme hunger. They
had very little food left after a dangerous ocean voyage, and so about
half of them died of hunger, disease, and bad weather.
Luckily for them, the Englishmen found the natives of this land,
Indians of the Wampanoag tribe, to be friendly.
They provided advice, food, and other important help. The
Indians, one of whom was Squanto, taught their new neighbors how to
build houses, hunt for food, and survive in the wilderness.
The Pilgrims learned much from their friends of the Wampanoag
tribe, whose chief, Massasoit, was one of the most powerful native
rulers of New England. The treaty Chief Massasoit signed with them at Plymouth in
1621 was faithfully observed until his death many years later.
In the spring the Englishmen planted the seeds they had brought
with them, along with corn and other crops the Indians taught them to
grow. When autumn arrived, the Pilgrims gathered their bountiful
harvest of foods and stored away some for the next winter.
Everyone was grateful for the harvest, and the Pilgrims said,
“We must give thanks for all the good food, our homes, our clothes,
our Indian friends and all our blessings.
We shall have a big feast and invite our Indian friends.
We will call it a feast of Thanksgiving.”
Well might they offer thanks; the Indians had helped the Pilgrims
survive the terrible conditions in their new land.
Therefore, Governor Bradford invited Chief Massasoit and his
braves to the celebration. On
that memorable day of the first Thanksgiving feast in December 1621, the
Pilgrims covered their tables with food from their gardens.
Massasoit’s braves brought turkeys, deer, and other game they
had shot with their bows and arrows.
The corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, clams, oysters, and fish
provided by the Indians were added to the Pilgrims’ food so that this
famous Thanksgiving feast lasted for three days.
Typical of most of the Indians of the United States, Wampanoags
were good hunters; growing crops was not as important to them as killing
game. Unlike the Plains Indians, but like most tribes of the
Eastern Woodlands, Wampanoags did not move their homes; they stayed in
Chief Massasoit and 90 of his braves came in their best dress to
celebrate the feast day. Some
of the Indians had wide bands of black paint on their faces.
Some had feathers stuck in their long straight black hair, and
some wore furry coats of wildcats hanging from their shoulders; others
Before anyone ate, they bowed their heads, offering a prayer of
thanksgiving. That was the
first Thanksgiving-a day that is now a legal holiday and one of the most
popular holidays in the United States, especially since we do not have
to come to school on that day.
The Indians danced, acted out stories, and played games with the
children. The colonists
snag their songs. In
addition, a target was set up, and the soldiers fired at it.
Then the Indians, standing in closer, shot at it with their bows
and arrows to see which side would win the contest.
Most important, hearty fellowship and goodwill was felt between
the colonists and the Indians. Peace
and friendship had been established on a firm foundation.
Without such a peace, the Pilgrims would never have won a footing
on that bleak, rugged coast. Without
it, Plymouth could never have survived.
Thanksgiving was not a new observance for the American Indians. We know that several Indian tribes were accustomed to
observing several days of thanksgiving throughout the year. The Iroquois and Choctaw, for example, had an autumn festival
known as the Green Corn Dance, which lasted three days.
We are also familiar with the story of how the Wampanoags came to
the first Thanksgiving feast at the invitation of Governor Bradford and
the Pilgrims. It seems
likely that the three-day period of Thanksgiving to which Massasoit and
his Indians went was already customary for them.
The first Thanksgiving observance was held in December 1621, but
it was not an annual affair as it is today.
On July 30, 1623, Governor Bradford proclaimed a second
Thanksgiving when a ship was sighted, heading for port carrying
much-awaited, much-needed supplies from England.
This second Thanksgiving Day was in no way connected with the
harvest, but, later on, a day was set in the month of November that
became associated with the gathering of the crops.
Today Thanksgiving is a legal holiday in all the United States.
reading the story, ask your students:
of our guesses came the closest?”
did you learn from the story that was new information for you?”
any of the material in the story surprise you?”
structure small groups so that each group will create a
flannel-board story of the first Thanksgiving in this country. Be sure that the stories include the Mayflower,
several Pilgrims, several Indians, some crude homes for the
Pilgrims, corn and other crops, and the Thanksgiving table laden
possible follow-up or extension activities, consider having your
class learn the songs “Thanksgiving Story” and “Indian Hunting
Song” and listen to “Dances of Indian America.”
The lesson plan outlined previously is to be presented as part of
a sequence of activities in US: A Cultural Mosaic; the entire set
of 238 activities is designed to
help children see that the similarities among people are those
traits that make them members of the human family, and that differences
among people are those characteristics that make people special and
help children develop an understanding and appreciation of
themselves and other persons in the communities.
The Thanksgiving lesson
has a number of positive attributes: it illustrates the importance of
friendliness and support from Native Americans-in this case, members of
the Wampanoag tribe-to the survival of the Pilgrims.
In addition, it shows some of the diversity that existed and
still exists among Native Americans; it also presents some basic
information about the Pilgrims and their first American Thanksgiving.
On the other hand, the
lesson could be improved:
The lesson should develop the understanding that even
though Thanksgiving has been a national holiday since 1863, there are
religious communities in the United States that do not celebrate it.
could be incorporate some invitations for inquiry: Who can find out
when Thanksgiving became a national holiday?
Has anyone written a biography about Chief Massasoit?
In the years after they celebrated Thanksgiving together, did
the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe come in conflict
with each other?
lesson could make use of student partners to increase active student
participation during the lesson; students could share the
information they learned from the story with their partners before
the teacher asks a few to share in front of the entire class.
story might have been entitled “The Second American
Thanksgiving” to emphasize that Native American groups had had
celebration feasts prior to 1621, at which they likely thanked the
“Great Spirit” for their good fortune.
This would not diminish the historical significance of the
first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims had in American but would help to
dispel the idea that “American” history begins with the European
experience in what would be called the Americas.
These observations and others will be incorporated into the
revised lesson sequence below.
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After Multicultural Restructuring
Development of a Culturally Pluralistic Attitude
Period: 60-120 Minutes
The learners will identify and develop an appreciation of the
way several different groups celebrate their own version of
the “before” lesson with the modifications mentioned
above-namely, to (a) call the story “The Second Thanksgiving in
America,” (b) make use of partners to increase active
participation and of cooperative learning groups to facilitate the
flannel-board activity, and (c) incorporate invitations for inquiry
to encourage critical thinking and self-directed learning.
the presentation of “The Second American Thanksgiving” with
lessons in which students learn about the following;
Jewish festival of Succot. Explain
why many people believe that the Pilgrims patterned their
Thanksgiving festival after Succot, which is described in the
Bible as a festival of thanksgiving and rejoicing, related to the
Moon Festival, which is celebrated by some Chinese people in the
Octoberfest, which is celebrated in Germany at the end of the
harvest in late September and early October.
suggestions regarding lesson content and materials for the Succot,
Moon Festival, and Octoberfest are included in US: A Cultural
Mosaic (pages 178-186), and in additional appendixes in the
Note that in the “after” treatment in this comparison, we not
only changed the major objective but also transformed a single lesson
into a more elaborate lesson sequence.
However, we also changed the Thanksgiving lesson itself in ways
that make it more congruent with the goals of multicultural education.
US: A Cultural Mosaic is filled with thoughtful sequences
that promote cultural pluralism (multicultural goal 3), intergroup
harmony (multicultural goal 4), an expanded multicultural/multiethnic
knowledge base (multicultural goal 5), and the propensity and ability to
think with a multicultural perspective (multicultural goal 6).
Because it works consistently to enhance the students’ sense of
group and individual self-esteem, the entire collection contributes to
education equity. Other
sequences in the volume that are related to the Thanksgiving story
Crosscultural Look at Some New Year’s Celebrations
Crosscultural Look at Some Independence Days
Crosscultural Look at Some Special Religious Days
Crosscultural Look at Some Days of Appreciation