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Symbols of Thanksgiving

Celebrate Thanksgiving

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Turkey, corn (or maize), pumpkins and cranberry sauce are symbols which represent the first Thanksgiving. Now all of these symbols are drawn on holiday decorations and greeting cards.

The use of corn meant the survival of the colonies. "Indian corn" as a table or door decoration represents the harvest and the fall season.

Sweet-sour cranberry sauce, or cranberry jelly, was on the first Thanksgiving table and is still served today. The cranberry is a small, sour berry. It grows in bogs, or muddy areas, in Massachusetts and other New England states. The Indians used the fruit to treat infections. They used the juice to dye their rugs and blankets. They taught the colonists how to cook the berries with sweetener and water to make a sauce. The Indians called it "ibimi" which means "bitter berry." When the colonists saw it, they named it "crane-berry" because the flowers of the berry bent the stalk over, and it resembled the long-necked bird called a crane. The berries are still grown in New England. Very few people know, however, that before the berries are put in bags to be sent to the rest of the country, each individual berry must bounce at least four inches high to make sure they are not too ripe!

In 1988, a Thanksgiving ceremony of a different kind took place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. More than four thousand people gathered on Thanksgiving night. Among them were Native Americans representing tribes from all over the country and descendants of people whose ancestors had migrated to the New World.

The ceremony was a public acknowledgment of the Indians' role in the first Thanksgiving 350 years ago. Until recently most schoolchildren believed that the Pilgrims cooked the entire Thanksgiving feast, and offered it to the Indians. In fact, the feast was planned to thank the Indians for teaching them how to cook those foods. Without the Indians, the first settlers would not have survived.

"We celebrate Thanksgiving along with the rest of America, maybe in different ways and for different reasons. Despite everything that's happened to us since we fed the Pilgrims, we still have our language, our culture, our distinct social system. Even in a nuclear age, we still have a tribal people." -Wilma Mankiller, Principal chief of the Cherokee nation

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