I'm skeptical of Hodgson's argument about the turkeys, however, because in his book, "Mayflower," published the same year as Hodgson's (2006), Nathaniel Philbrick quotes Bradford as saying there was a "good store of wild turkeys," which the Pilgrims liked to hunt in the winter, when they could track them in the snow.
One thing's for sure: If the Pilgrims did encounter a turkey, they would know what it was because the Spanish had introduced the American species to Europe by way of the Ottomon Empire (thus the name "Turkey") in the time of the conquistadors. By the 1620s, it was a familiar dish on the English table.
As for the pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, Hodgson says, the English colonists didn't have sugar until decades later.
One of the fictions shattered (literally), is that of Plymouth Rock.
"Of all the patriotic myth that has become encrusted on the genuine heroism of these brave and godly men, the cult of Plymouth Rock is the most implausible," Hodgson wrote.
The Mayflower didn't land on a rock. If it had, it would have splintered. The ship's hull was too deep to bring it ashore. It remained more than a mile from the coast while the Pilgrims came by boat to Clark's Island in Duxbury Bay, not Plymouth Harbor, where the Rock still stands "under a pompous temple in the best 1895 beaux arts manner …" Hodgson says.
The small oval boulder was split in two when it was moved in 1774. Its "legend can be traced back only to the memory of a certain John Faunce," a Plymouth congregation elder who identified the rock in 1741, when he was in his 90s, said Hodgson.
Better red than …
Over time, the story of the Pilgrims has been imbued with patriotic notions of independence and rugged individualism. Notwithstanding the pious proclamations of Washington and Lincoln, and the rich poetry of Whitman, however, the Pilgrims were not Americans in the modern sense. They were loyal subjects of the king who wanted to rid themselves of the Church of England, but not of their English nationality.
And in contrast to the later image of New Englanders as fiercely self-sufficient Yankee capitalists, the Pilgrims were, at first, communists. Like the early Christians, they held their property in common and provided "from each according to his ability to each according to his need" — which may have been necessary for their survival.
The Pilgrims leaders' attitude toward property is reflected in a sermon preached by Robert Cushman on Dec. 21, 1621 on the text from First Corinthians 10:24: "Let no man seek his own: But every man another's wealth."
But communism didn't work any better in the 17th century than it did in the 20th, and it wasn't until the leaders allowed each family to own its own property and provide for its own needs that the colony began to prosper, according to Hodgson.
Invention of tradition
Like Parson Weems' tale of the young George Washington and his father's cherry tree, the story of the First Thanksgiving is, Hodgson said, one of the "pious fictions of the American political religion." It is an example, he noted, of what a group of British historians in the 1980s, called "the invention of tradition."
While it may be a fiction, however, it is not fraudulent, he said. It is a tale that has been shaped into a "powerful and virtuous symbol."
"One can deconstruct the idea of Thanksgiving as much as one likes," Hodgson wrote. "It remains, not a hymn to battle or violence, not a festival of national pride and superiority, but a domestic celebration of gratitude, humility and inclusiveness. These are not qualities for which anyone need apologize."
Indeed. Whether or not it started out that way, we have transformed Thanksgiving into a celebration of all that is good about America — a country where faith, family and generosity of spirit matter.
It is the best of all holidays.
Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.