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Native, American ways of saying thanks

Program at OSV provides history of holiday

Marge Bruchac, in the role of "Molly" (left), talks to fellow Old Sturbridge Village performer Lois Kelley. Bruchac presented American Indian stories of Thanksgiving, while Kelley looked at the day's traditional history. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
November 29, 2009
Although our early American forebears liked to see as many differences between themselves and the Native Americans as possible, they often found themselves giving thanks for the same things — food, family, friends and fecundity.

How they defined those things, however, differed somewhat, as several dozen people discovered from several presentations by Lois Kelley and Marge Bruchac at Old Sturbridge Village last week.

Thanksgiving "was not a tradition that started with the Pilgrims," said Kelley, clad in a blue patterned dress from the 1820s.

She meant it in the sense that what we know today as Thanksgiving actually developed many years later. Even the term "Pilgrims" for the first English settlers of New England is a later creation, borrowed from a passing reference in Pilgrim leader William Bradford's journal when it was discovered in the 1800s.

For decades, the early settlers debated how to commemorate the fact they survived their harsh first winter on this continent, losing about half their population in 1620-21, Kelley said. Many of them wanted to feast and celebrate when the harvests of 1621 and future years came in, but others preferred to have a day of prayer and contemplation. The latter group often prevailed after 1623.

For more on this story, please see Monday's Southbridge Evening News.

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