The Sale of the first Supper An Essay and Image Gallery About the Performance of Thanksgiving as America

A piece of the myth of the First Thanksgiving


My paper is about the imagery that sells Thanksgiving to the American masses as a performance of pacifism of the Native tribespeople as a gesture of handing a cornucopia over to the pilgrims in peace which set the stage for all Native People to be assumed to be magically passive and giving of their crops and hard work to anyone who wants it. The images, pageants, gestures, and storied lies are all a performance forming America through ritualistic repetition of restored behaviors, making believes in making belief. Capitalism, consumption, and assymilation.


The Sale of the First Supper

The Thanksgiving holiday may be a historical fact for some. For others, it is made of myths, murder, legends, and marketing. Thanksgiving was and is sold to America in tandem with Christian values to help create America. It has taken hundreds of years from the first idea of a Thanksgiving dinner to bring us to where it is today. It is a day that has reinforced American values and has been used to keep the country united to satiated the hearts and minds of an ever-changing population. At its heart, Thanksgiving was crafted with the specificity of a successful marketing campaign because it always adapts to who its audience and target market is, Thanksgiving is a performance of America and America is a performance of Thanksgiving. It is a multimedia, theatrical, and immersive experience for anyone to consume. It is made of agreements of social values and repertoire a finely crafted performance manipulating generations into consumerism. Every element of Thanksgiving is what America is, or hopes to be; family, togetherness, sharing, wealth, abundance, no child left behind, growth, prosperity, inclusive, Christian, faithful, gracious, thankful, resource-filled, endless bounty, feasting, sentimentality, Christian values, bootstrap, and Mom cooking dinner in the kitchen.

Thanksgiving is formulaic and is a repetition of a “colonial encounter,” and the colonizing is nowhere near its end Thanksgiving reinforces colonialism, “I suggest that the colonial “encounter” is a theatrical scenario structured in a predictable, formulaic, hence repeatable fashion. Theatricality (like theatre) flaunts its artifice, its constructedness. No matter who restages the colonial encounter from the West’s perspective—the novelist, the playwright, the discoverer, or the government official—it stars the same white male protagonist-subject and the same brown, found “object.” Theatricality strives for efficaciousness, not authenticity. It connotes a conscious, controlled, and, thus, always political dimension that performance need not imply.” (Diana Taylor p.13) Therefore Thanksgiving is much like other holidays where something of the social imaginary accepted as truth, the first Thanksgiving like the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Faerie are there for a child’s imagination and the enforcement of moral values. The truth of the origins of each of the imagined characters is usually revealed to a child as they grow up; however, the historical truths behind Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving are lesser-known. Many parallels made between the Christian holidays and their placement on the calendar covering over Pagan traditions, Thanksgiving is its day as it does not have biblical roots at its origin story. Its purpose is to be American and to keep Americans bonded by a central theme of gratitude and togetherness.

Leonardo Davinci painted the Last Supper in the 1490s; the painting recognized around the world as an image depicting the last supper of Jesus Christ. The painting is full of recognizable nonverbal gestures of foreshadowing of Jesus’ demise and creating an imagined portrayal of an event. The painting is making belief. Victor Turner states, “make belief” - create the very social realities they enact.” (Victor Turner p 23) The painting reinforces the dramas played out in the Bible of Jesus Christ and his last meal. The image of the Last Supper has become accepted as a vision of truth. The images of Thanksgiving are similar in that they, too, have created an image of togetherness, fellowship, ritual, abundance, agreement, and a performative gesture of sharing food. Here I refer to Thanksgiving as “the First Supper” because the imagery has paved a path for centuries of colonization through gestures of abundance and togetherness excusing the catastrophic genocide of the Native People in the name of progress, manifest destiny, Christianity, and most famously capitalism, arguably each life on with the others support. The performances of Thanksgiving is America. America is an acceptance of a performed tradition passed down over generations, an expression of America’s voracious appetite of greed. A long history of magazines pressuring women to perform Thanksgiving for their families as an American tradition. “While stories presented scenarios that assumed Thanksgiving’s celebration, columns featuring recipes and advice on decorating and dress gave women readers direction on how they could engineer their own feasts and thereby establish their own outposts of American virtue. Both Godey’s and Ladies’ Home Journal offered detailed instruction on an authentic domestic commemoration of a true Pilgrim Thanksgiving.” (Anne Blue Wills p.149)

The First Supper is a communication of values generated through a repertoire made of family togetherness and food, the social construction of a historical event. Yearly, people send their children off to school to reenact the meeting of the “Indians” and Pilgrims. Children wear costumes and given roles of being either an “Indian” or a Pilgrim, they reenact a supper and given moral values of sharing and harvest. Thanksgiving is a piece of theatrical historical reenactment, documentary theatre up for reinterpretation perpetually. Some children are given brown makeup and asked to wear it as a gesture of being an “Indian,” this socially accepted racial impersonation permits to mimic the Native People and objectify them as a holiday costume effectively erasing them as people and replacing them as caricatures. The children are given scriptures to reinforce the moral values to maintain the roots of Thanksgiving as a Christian values holiday. Much like the Corpus Christi Plays at York, though lacking the procession through the town, adults and children reenact the meeting of the Pilgrims and the Native people at Plymouth ceremoniously for their communities. Thanksgiving pageants are a ceremony to embed the historical inaccuracy of the meeting as a peaceful and agreeable moment in history that reinforces the permission to steal land from the Native Americans. The Thanksgiving Pageants are like the holiday pageants held in many Christian communities for Christmas, those pageants reenact the journey of Mary and Joseph to birth the Christ child, also a ceremony embedding and reinforcing moral values. Christianity is the majority religion of the United States, with over 70% of the population claiming one variety of Christian faith or another, that dominance over the narrative of American values and holidays that Americans celebrate annually. Thanksgiving traditions are a vehicle of performance and gestures that are in the Christian’s favor, ultimately favoring the narrative of the colonizer.

“As this festival united U.S. citizens, set them apart from the rest of the world, and fit them for a certain way of life, it also knit itself into their memories and tempered their behavior. Thanksgiving encouraged submission, not to a sovereign providence, but to the project of the nation. The holiday’s partisans hoped to make Thanksgiving both permanent and portable, inseparable from its celebrants no matter where they found themselves, geographically, socially, or economically.” (Anne Blue Wills p.154)

The pageants and reenactments of the First Supper create shared knowledge and, therefore, as a power and a work of representation, “Knowledge linked to power not only assumes the authority of ‘the truth’, but has the power to make itself true. All knowledge, once applied in the real world, has real effects and, in that sense, at least, ‘becomes true’.” (Stuart Hall, p.33) The myths of Thanksgiving presented as knowledge and truth that helped make America what it is today. In this excerpt from the Journal of Education 1906, Jane A Stewart extends the morals of the holiday in her instructions for schools of “Thanksgiving Exercise” “Our Thanksgiving is different from that of other countries though. No other nation has a regular day set apart for the giving of thanks as we have, and other people enjoy a combined church and home hilly like our Thanksgiving day. Ours is not only a religious observance but also a social, homecoming day. Some folks think it is the best holiday we have, and I believe they are about right.”

The imagined historical values of Thanksgiving are disappearing more, and the day is becoming an appetizer for the Christmas consumer feasting. The meaning and the gestures have shifted to make room for shopping bargains. The meanings warped to the neoliberal dinner hosts inviting endless consumption at the table, providing an endless feast without repercussion, new meanings produced.

“Producing meaning depends on the practice of interpretation, and interpretation is sustained by us actively using the code – encoding, putting things into the code – and by the person at the other end interpreting or decoding the meaning. But note that, because meanings are always changing and slipping, codes operate more like social conventions than like fixed laws or unbreakable rules. As meanings shift and slide, so inevitably, the codes of a culture imperceptibly change. The great advantage of the concepts and classifications of the culture which we carry around with us in our heads is that they enable us to think about things, whether they are there, present, or not; indeed, whether they ever existed or not. There are concepts for our fantasies, desires, and imaginings as well as for so-called ‘real’ objects in the material world. And the advantage of language is that our thoughts about the world need not remain exclusive to us, and silent. We can translate them into language, make them ‘speak,’ through the use of signs which stand for them – and thus talk, write, communicate about them to others.” (Hall, p. 45)

The looming shadow of Black Friday awaits the consumer while the turkey rests in the oven, embedding Thanksgiving into a shopping tradition. Each gesture of the holiday reinforced through advertising for a holiday that gives millions of people a day off, more permission to forget history imagined or otherwise. Time passes, and the holiday shifts further into consumerism, deals start early, so no waiting for the day after Thanksgiving, consumers turn to early shopping deals online. Consumerism, capitalism, colonization have erased the truths behind the holiday’s roots. This year, shoppers not only filled their plates on Thanksgiving day but also their online shopping carts with online spending reaching “$3.7 billion, up 28% from last year, according to Adobe Analytics data. Many customers went online using their mobile devices, with smartphones driving a record of 54.4% of traffic on Thanksgiving day, Adobe ADBE, +0.15% said. The devices captured a 36.7% share of the revenue.” (techcrunch.com, Ingrid Lunden,11/22/19)

“In 1621, colonists invited Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoags, to a feast after a recent land deal. Massasoit came with ninety of his men. That meal is why we still eat a meal together in November. Celebrate it as a nation. But that one wasn’t a thanksgiving meal. It was a land-deal meal. Two years later, there was another, similar meal meant to symbolize eternal friendship. Two hundred Indians dropped dead that night from an unknown poison.” (Tommy Orange, There There, p.3- 4) Some Native American communities have renamed the day as the National Day of Mourning or Unthanksgiving in protest to the continued destruction to Native lands and people. During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the 26th, the final Thursday of November 1863. Thanksgiving is a means of assimilation for the immigrants into the United States; the immigrants are taught the Thanksgiving myth as an example of welcoming people in need with a mutually beneficial feast to be shared peacefully for all. When the immigration authorities educate newcomers to the United States with the myth of Thanksgiving, they are extending a lie that is erasing the truth that the lands, stolen, and the Pilgrims were resorting to cannibalism to survive.

“Although historians have long since debunked the myths surrounding the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving, illustrators, filmmakers, and television producers continue to generate new Thanksgiving images, and immigrant groups add new ingredients to the Thanksgiving table. Advocates for the poor and the homeless gain visibility by serving dinner to the needy on Thanksgiving Day. Meanwhile, Native Americans have proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national day of mourning, and vegetarians campaign against the consumption of turkey and other meats at Thanksgiving dinner. Yet despite these strong and varied responses, the First Thanksgiving myth has not faded, for it remains a basic building block of America’s national identity.” (Andrew F. Smith p. 7)

The performance of the Thanksgiving images handed down, adding to the erasure of experiences of native people being overtaken by colonizing masses. Turning images of corn and pumpkins into a symbol of Thanksgiving denies the origins of the crops and who harvested them and who harvest them now. In this excerpt from the Journal of Education 1906, Jane A Stewart extends morals of the holiday in her instructions for schools of “Thanksgiving Exercise” She describes how to decorate, not much has changed today, “Decorate the schoolroom with fruits of the harvest, cornstalks, wheat, etc. Red peppers and cranberries may be strung to give color.” The performance of the holiday giving thanks year after year simplifies a message and is a twisted intention from dark origins. Famously excusing the cycle of violence against the Native Americans in the guise of giving thanks and erasing the tragic genocide and forced evacuation of lands taken over by the Pilgrims and other colonizers. Religious morality structures of being a good neighbor and sharing through examples of people welcome strangers into their homes for the Thanksgiving dinner, saying the Pilgrims were welcomed, and so are you. All are welcome in America. Christianity is the justification for colonization and the celebration of the American holiday Thanksgiving. The influence of faith a Christian God has powered and drove the self-righteous to conquer everything in the way of their progress by manipulating, destroying, and consuming all resources living or otherwise.

Familiar images, storytelling, and rituals of the Thanksgiving tradition formulate the story of how America is a gift to the Pilgrim colonists who appeared helpless with innocence to provide the will of God. The restored behavior of the Thanksgiving dinner is a racialized ideology. Repetition of images, related bible quotes, Thanksgiving pageants, the moral values of welcoming people in need, the connective need of food, harvest, and sharing the thanksgiving pageant becomes as recognizable of the Christmas pageant that shares similar ethical messages for goodwill. Mary and Joseph set out on a passage and must find a place to birth their son; they entered a space that seemed uninhabitable to birth a child and was rewarded by the son is Jesus, the son of God. The Pilgrims set out on a passage of growth and birth, the birth of a nation, willed by God. The message from a white male God to move forward and succeed.

An example of Thanksgiving pageant message in this excerpt from the Journal of Education 1906, Jane A Stewart extends morals of the holiday in her instructions for schools of “Thanksgiving Exercise.” One passage of a Thanksgiving play to be performed by children at school, “Weak and ill, and sorrowing over many loved ones who had died during the winter, the brave survivors of the Pilgrims set to work in the Spring to plant corn, barley, and peas for food. In the Autumn, the returns of the harvest were so good that they decided to observe a day of Thanksgiving. There were fifty-five colonists and ninety- one friendly Indians Present at the feast, which lasted several days. There were drills by the soldiers and games in which everybody joined. All went to the church services to hear the sermon. In this historic celebration nearly 300 years ago, they set an example for our later Thanksgiving. Which is a combination of devotional service, hospitality, and outdoor and indoor recreation.”

Over 5 billion copies of the Bible sold since records of Bible sales began, it is exemplary of the power of the sale of moral tales sold, and Thanksgiving as a sales tool for the bootstrap myths that are America. The sale of the creation of a moral tale based on Christian moral values created an excuse for generations to adhere to defend the formation of America. The story of Mary and Joseph and the story of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving are the basis for the bootstrap myths, and for manifest destiny, the parables of underdog get the footing for economic domination is America. The legends of the Pilgrims being helpless to the unexpected weather of the Plymouth Rock region have been reenacted generation after generation bringing us to this month a there is another tragic school shooting in America, and the parents to have had their children dressed as little pilgrims for the Thanksgiving pageant.

The Thanksgiving imagination has outgrown its origin stories into a capitalist shopping holiday and a preparation for Christmas. Americans move from one heartstring plucking moment of the values of gratitude of Thanksgiving to the chiming values of a capitalist Christmas. The turkey, cornucopia, corn, and pumpkins have become recognized as feast symbols of the holiday, efficient communications of consumption playing the role of abundance and sharing while the theft of the native lands goes unacknowledged to celebrate the messages of the Bible.

Children asked to choose sides in the pageants at school, in some classes, children who are outcasts bullied into performing as a native Americans as the Pilgrims are presenting the Pilgrims in a bright moral light, and the Native Americans portrayed as not knowing the Bible and needing to be saved as they, seen as savages. The racial impersonation persists in American education systems today, cardboard, feathers, crayons, markers, pencils, paint, construction paper, glue, pipe cleaners, toilet paper rolls, paper plates, and felt. All ingredients for costume building and browning up their skin socially accepted as projects for the teachings of Thanksgiving and therefore teaching what America is. Here in this article about a Thanksgiving pageant, the misrepresentation of history, “NEW LONDON -- Thanksgiving may have been a week away, but the kids at the New London Christian Preschool were primed and ready for the holiday last Wednesday. They showed their parents and teachers that they had been well-schooled in the events that set the roots of life in Massachusetts as they paddled a cardboard and paper model of the Mayflower into the auditorium of the New London Christian Life Center and then performed. The 3- and 4-yearolds were dressed in feathers, pilgrim hats and colorful vests as they proceeded to the stage behind a large table filled with Thanksgiving paraphernalia. They stood behind that table of bounty and recited in unison (with some prompting from teachers) the events that led to the first Thanksgiving dinner. Later they told what they were thankful for with words and pictures they had drawn. The object of their thanks ranged from cozy beds, to family, to cats, to roller coasters and turkeys. Preschool Director Michelle Heavener said the kids made

their own costumes and had been practicing since October for the big event. She said she preferred to have the kids have their show for Thanksgiving rather than Christmas because there seems to be less time for practice in the time squeezed between the end of November and the holidays of December. Additionally, she said the students are somewhat overloaded with excitement at Christmas, while at while at the same time, Christmas seems now to be centered on shopping and gifts. 'I believe the Christmas holiday leave out Christianity,' she said.She said the children also learned about the Indian Squanto, who was kidnapped to Europe but nurtured by monks in Spain. When he returned to America, he helped the Pilgrims with survival skills.” (Chris Barber 11/12 Souther Chester County Weeklies)

Meanwhile, the symbolic foods that are part of the moral tales are that of the North American continent and are the staples survival, corn, and squash, a marketing ploy, furthered colonization of the hearts and minds of America, a country built on an illusion faith of goodwill, an underdog story, being a good neighbor and altruism. Social behavior around images of corn and squash lined table clothes filled cornucopia baskets, an endless harvest. “The future creates the past by constructing past specifically designed to make a particular future more likely to occur. All social behavior is actually the performance of “strips of behavior” that have already been behaved and are therefore, “twice behaved”. Apparent originality occurs at the level of arrangement and context. The “not” and the “not not” are inherent in role-playing.” (author needed) Thanksgiving is pleasant role-playing memories, family, abundance, togetherness, and sharing. Handing the dish of food across the table as restored behavior. “Thus performances mark identities, bend and remake time, adorn the body with costumes, and provide people with behavior that is “twice-behaved,” not-for-the-first time, rehearsed, cooked, prepared. Having made such a sweeping generalization, it is necessary to add that every genre of performance, even every particular instance of a genre, is concrete, specific, and different than every other.” (Schechner, http://www.nyu.edu/classes/bkg/schechner)

Thanksgiving performs individual, systemic, institutional, and structural racism, and a socially accepted erasure of genocide, in greeting cards, craft projects, costumes, parades, movies, plays, commercials, music, anthropomorphizing turkeys as pilgrims, and reinforcing the attitude of gratitude. It is racism, socially accepted bias minimizing the experience of the Native Americans. “America became white—the people who, as they claim, “settled” the country became white—because of the necessity of denying the Black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation. No community can be based on such a principle—or, in other words, no community can be established on so genocidal a lie. White men—from Norway, for example, where they were Norwegians—became white: by slaughtering the cattle, poisoning the wells, torching the houses, massacring Native Americans, raping Black women.” (James Baldwin, p. 178-179)

As the First Supper, the Thanksgiving Holiday has embossed traditions into the America that we experience every day, the legacy to impress upon the residents of this country what it is to be kind and American. The cycles of giving and gratitude are a necessity, part to the word Thanksgiving, giving and gratitude. It is an agreement gesture made into a social contract part of performing America, actor performs applause is customary. The ethics of gratitude are socially accepted and expected. “Expressions of gratitude are demonstrations of a complex of beliefs, feelings, and attitudes. By showing gratitude for the benevolence of others, we express our beliefs that they acted with our interests in mind and that we benefited; we show that we are glad for the benefit and the others' concern-we appreciate what was done; we indicate that we also have an attitude of regard for them, at least in the respect that we do not look on them as objects in the world whose movements have happened to bring us benefits (for then no response would be necessary). And we show that we do not regard their sacrifices and concessions as mere instruments of our welfare. The donor has shown his valuing of the recipient; the donee shows the relationship is mutual by some form of reciprocation, and each has demonstrated attitudes appropriate to members of a moral community.” (Fred R. Berger p.302) The ethics of gratitude are engrained in the culture of America, therefore giving the thanks in Thanksgiving.

The cycles of The Thanksgiving holiday maintain the United States as the “City upon a hill.” And the moral majority. To dismantle the Thanksgiving myths is to dismantle America, perceived as blasphemy as it envelopes the values of what the colonists built on and hundreds of myths that have persisted through an accepted colonial mindset. A collaborative historical effort to win the hearts and minds of millions with well-marketed parades, football games, and gluttony. Gratitude and giving are high values to extend to a population to rest at night with visions of a peaceful, well-fed, utopian world. It is at the expense of the millions of Native people murdered by the hands of colonial expansion — systematic genocide. America performs a complex set of moral values, and the defense of that is central to many Americans. The hundreds of years to make Thanksgiving what it is today can not be undone. It is as much part of the fabric of the Nation as Christianity, the Last Supper, and the First Supper. The holiday can take on new intentions of listening to the stories of the people who are left, descendants of the massacred populations — a day of memorializing, decolonizing history, conscious accountability, re-writing history. Because the betrayal of the Native people has perpetuated as progress in American s schools, it would take new forms of strength in education and activism to adapt honesty and transparency to heal communities that have impacted generationally.

Take the day away from the colonizers. “With this in mind, the more radical arms of the civil rights era, such as the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, the American Indian Movement, the Chicano Movement, the Asian American Movement, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and others, recognized that our local political struggles for self-determination had to also be anchored to the larger international class struggle against the ravages and advancement of capitalism. As formerly colonized populations, Chicano, Puerto Rican, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian groups also framed their struggle within the context and impact of a long history of colonization. Hence, important links were made between the economic imperatives that led to the colonization of our lands and the enslavement of our African American brothers and sisters. Moreover, the engagement of Paulo Freires work was as much about the political decolonization of our communities, as it was a personal process of decolonizing of our hearts, bodies, and minds” (Antonia Darder p.40) It is the responsibility of our Nation take the historical myths of Thanksgiving and give it new meanings of taking responsibility, accountability, and decolonization. Then gratitude and giving will have honesty and remove manipulation and lies.


Images of corn and harvest abundamce reinforce giving abundance. I

Christian prayers of corn . How about a thanks to the Native Americans?

A white angel delivers the corn. Corn being a staple food of the Americas is part of the staples of imagery of abundance. The white angel delivering corn is a gesturing of salvation because of corn, and ignores the corn's origin from the agricultural proctices of the Native Americans.

The Mayflower being waved in by the Native man.

Cartoonish figures working hard to prepare for Thanksgiving. The images reinforce gestures of togetherness that imply this is how America was built.

A passive feast awaits.

The Miniaturization of the Pilgrim indicates sweet innocesne am overarching trope of the Pilgrim's arrival to the East Coast.
The Miniaturization of the Pilgrim indicates sweet innocesne am overarching trope of the Pilgrim's arrival to the East Coast.
Happy doe eyes indicating a childlike innocense
a Native Man taking what he wants from the feast tray with his arrow implies bad manners by having the Pilgrim woman disapproving of what he doing.

Adding large eyes and smiles creates a mysticism of kindness and adorable intensions while the turkey is decorated with peace symbols, nevermind it's soon demise.

A decoration kit to simplify a performance of communication through images of what Thanksgiving means.

Kissing Pilgrims Romanticizing Gestures of Heteronormative White Progress



Addams Family Values. An over the top Hollywood depection of a Thanksgiving Pageant containing racist impersonations of Native Americans.


Black Friday Riot


Created with images by Roderico Y. Díaz - "A family in Guatemala indigenous dry part of its corn harvest to ensure native seeds for planting the following year." • Sharjeel Khalid - "untitled image" • Charles - "Cornography" • Virgil Cayasa - "Just corn"