I mention Slow Food because it applies to this week's topic very much. I will, later today, be spending hours in my kitchen preparing foods that will take at least one hour if not longer to make. This time frame applies to every dish and every dish is worth the time it takes to prepare and cook it. We ALL Know that it will be delicious so we take our time and SLOWLY prepare our Holiday Feasts. Most every American household today will be experiencing the very same thing. Since every house will be radiating an amazing smell of all this wonderful food, I wonder if other countries will be able to smell how Amazing and delicious America is today. :0)
Every American does this because this is our American Tradition and it dates back to before 1621, the Plymouth Massachusetts "First Thanksgiving." Even though this poorly documented event is accepted as the origin of our tradition, there's a little more to the story than just that.
I set out to touch on the subject with this week's illustration for Illustration Friday. I have been doing a little research, just for fun (I know, I'm a nerd and I'm one of those "lame" people who find the subject of History fascinating.) I wanted to talk a little about the beginnings of the first European Settlers and their tumultuous and sometimes volatile relationship with the American Natives and how this relationship has been a Very SLOW Process. I also wanted to talk about the Slow evolution of the Thanksgiving Holiday and where it truly originates. As a good friend of mine has said to me,"History outside of the margins is the most fascinating."
As many of you know, The Native Americans, as we know them today, are many tribes divided regionally from each other and also divided by the history of their interaction with the European settlers that came to, for lack of a better word, steal the land right out from under all the tribes with the clever use of legislation under a banner called manifest destiny. Eddie Izzard has an old joke about how the Europeans fled Europe due to persecution only to travel all the way to American... and just continue that thing they sought freedom from. Eddie Izzard is a funny man but the history of the betrayals that were wrought on the Native peoples of America at that time by the European immigrants is not. It is something that many people don't wish to discuss on this holiday. Inconvenient truth or not, it is our tragic history associated with this holiday and it really did happen. But this comes later. Many historians believe that the Native American tribes that those first European Settlers interacted with are descendants of 3 major migrations that happened during the Ice Age from Euro-Asia of the ice-land bridge which connected the 2 continents at that time. They also believe that by the year 8,000 BC that the North American climate was very similar to what is today and since that time, those migratory groups have branched out, thrived and became the Native Americans that those First Settlers met.
Eddie Izzard on the First Thanksgiving
On that flip side, in the faith of many tribes, it is believed that all of their people originated from this land; that they were not an evolution of people who migrated form Euro-Asia. Like most things in faith and sometimes in history, we are never quite certain what really happened. So you just have to choose which origin story you like best and just believe. Personally I like the idea that all of the tribes originated form one large tribe that has been here all this time and still continue to live and thrive on this land. In either case, the events and evolution of the Native Americans known in the First Thanksgiving Story was a Slow one to reach from their origins.
So I'm going to switch back and forth here just a little. It is commonly accepted that the very First Thanksgiving was at Plymouth in present day Massachusetts in 1621. It was attended by 50 Pilgrims (out of the original 100 that arrived on the boat, only 50 survived the first winter in the New World) and 99 members of the Wampanoag tribe. All my American friends will remember the brief overview of the story. The settlers that survived the winter did so because of the generosity of the Native Americans that taught them how to grow corn and fish. The celebration was to give thanks on a bountiful harvest and to thank the Pilgrims new found friends by a great feast that lasted 3 days. And everyone lived happily ever after, right? (geez) I honestly feel embarrassed for those who either bought into this none sense or those who choose to teach it. I really lament the history of what the Settlers, the revolutionaries and the Western Frontier Settlers did to the Native American tribes, especially since they were just trying to coexist in the beginning of it. Very sad and very tragic.
I digress. This event, though commonly credited as the origins of our tradition, is Not the very First Thanksgiving. In actuality days of Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving ceremonies have been a part of the Settlers Tradition and of people of other faiths well before 1621. The first European Settlers were, religiously, split into two groups: The Puritans (who sought to reform certain practices of their traditional English Anglican Faith) and the Pilgrims (who rejected the practices of the Anglican Church that they sought to escape from.) The Pilgrims are the group of Settlers that were involved in what has become the First Thanksgiving in 1621. I mention this religious context because the Pilgrims had a day every week that was set aside for giving thanks to their God. It was a set day every week that was a Non-Sabbath day and the Pilgrims would give thanks for any blessing that was bestowed t them within that previous week whether it was to pull through a difficult illness or falling in love , etc. Technically the very first "Thanksgiving" happened when the settlers stepped off the boat onto the dry land of the New World.
The First Thanksgiving 1621 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899)
This painting, which is commonly associated with illustrating that Thanksgiving feast actually has quite a few accuracy issues. For example, the Wampanoag are dressed as if the were one of the tribes of the Great Plains, not what the Wampanoag tribe actually looked like. Also, the Pilgrims did not wear clothes like those depicted in the painting. Apparently there are several inaccuracies but it is still used as the go to illustration for the first Thanksgiving. This is one of the reasons I chose to dress my snail characters in very stereotypical costumes for both the Pilgrim and the Native American. I thought it would be a nice nod to this historical-historically-inaccurate illustration. ;0) Also these are the common characteristics that people have come to associate with the Holiday as far as period costume. If you click on the image above you can read an artical more about the inaccuracies of Feris' romanticized painting.
Oddly enough, the traditional Thanksgiving celebration has jumped around the calendar. It has been recorded to have taken place anywhere between September and December. That's a bit of a wide range. There was also one known recording of Thanksgiving being in July. So why do we celebrate this holiday specifically in November? A bit of interesting trivia, it has taken three American Presidents to (s)nail down the date. George Washington in an attempt to promote citizenship amongst the revolutionary settlers and the Native Americans proposed that Thanksgiving be a National Holiday celebrated on November 28th, 1782.
In any case, I have been going over all this information in preparation for the piece I wanted to work on. As always I LOVE LOVE LOVE Animal Allegories and wanted to illustrate one with a Thanksgiving theme. Since the topic is SLOW, I decided Snails would be interesting to draw. I had a fun very Slow Afternoon last weekend just sketching snails. I very much enjoyed just taking time out to just sketch and doodle. I don't always have time to do that and it was a nice pause in an otherwise busy week. I also wanted to visually state in some way the very Slow progress that led to the Thanksgiving Feast of 1621 as well as the slow politics of the Original settlers who became Revolutionaries who became Western Frontier Settlers and the Native American Tribes.
Also one of my very favorite parts of the American Thanksgiving tradition is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, so I also wanted to add a little flair to my snails. I made/staged the scene on the pumpkin to look similar to something you might see as a float rolling down the streets of New York City in that very parade.
Our country's history has always been tumultuous with atrocities committed on both sides of that fence. The tribes of today are actually becoming more involved in the political arena of our nation . Even though it's going to be a very slow process, my hope is that the remaining tribes will find peace in the melting pot of what the United States of America has become. Both the Native Americans and the Pilgrims have had a nice Long and Slow Journey since 1621. Both of those original groups have evolved into other things. Other groups have immigrated and joined the ranks of American citizenship. A lot of change has taken place environmentally and architecturally in regards to the physical landscape of all the land since that time. But we all still have one thing still in common, we are all American and we are all here in this very moment, alive, to share in the joys and comforts that Thanksgiving day provides.
With that said, I just want to wish all of my American friends out there a Very Happy Thanksgiving. Travel safe if you are traveling and cherish the time you get to spend with your loved one's on this day.
until next time,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, keep making art.