They invited neighboring Indians, who had taught them agricultural skills critical to their survival. Together they celebrated their good fortune with a three-day feast.
There is a problem with the traditional story - no one invited the Indians.
The settlers threw the party for themselves. Members of the local Wampanoag tribe arrived only after hearing the English firing their arms in celebration. This view may be historically accurate.
A firsthand account of the original Thanksgiving is provided in "Mourt's Relations," a series of letters written in 1620 and 1621, primarily by settler Edward Winslow.
He writes of a harvest celebration, "at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor."
Actually, the harvest of 1621 wasn't great at all. The barley, wheat, and peas the Pilgrims brought with them from England had failed. Fortunately, the corn did well enough that they were able to double their weekly food rations.
The Pilgrims were happy to be alive: The previous winter had wiped out 47 people--almost half their community.
What people are thankful for changes from year to year.
On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress. His "Four Freedoms" offered a vision in which the American ideals of individual liberties were extended throughout the world:
The speech inspired Norman Rockwell to create a series of paintings on the "Four Freedoms," including "Freedom From Want."
Make sure to take time today to contemplate why you are thankful.
Image courtesy of the National Achieves.