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Students, professors reflect on Thanksgiving's history

Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday that is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November. Despite the holiday’s fascination with food items, Thanksgiving doesn’t just revolve around the consumption of turkey; it has an important history. 

Thanksgiving was declared a federal holiday in 1863 and is celebrated by most American families today. The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 and many Americans use the traditional story of the meal shared between the English settlers and Indigenous people to illustrate the meaning of Thanksgiving. 

Despite this story, however, according to, Thanksgiving "masks the true history of oppression and bloodshed that underlies the relationship between European settlers and Native Americans.” 

The article further discussed the first Thanksgiving story and the origins and controversies surrounding the holiday. 

According to Katherine Jellison, a history professor specializing in U.S., social and women and gender histories, the historical controversy has affected Thanksgiving celebrations as well as other holidays, such as Columbus Day. 

“Some people have chosen to not celebrate Thanksgiving because of that history or have a market as many people now do with Columbus Day as a day of mourning,” Jellison said. 

Jellison said people can still celebrate Thanksgiving, but it is important to have a balance between remembering history and spending time with loved ones. 

“I think that an accurate telling of history is always a good idea,” Jellison said. “People could still celebrate it as a day of Thanksgiving for what they feel are the blessings in their own life without playing up that mythology of the first Thanksgiving.”

According to Jellison, Thanksgiving is America’s most popular holiday and it encourages people to focus on personal blessings while sharing a delicious meal with friends and family. Jellison talked about her specific traditions, which include spending time with friends and her spouse at a restaurant and enjoying her favorite traditional Thanksgiving foods. 

Thanksgiving meals often include traditional foods such as turkeys, stuffing and pumpkin pie, however, some families share foods from different cultures, creating their own unique Thanksgiving experiences. Antonio Tecum-Box, a freshman studying civil engineering, talked about his Guatemalan family's favorite Thanksgiving foods. 

“I think something my family, especially my mom, does almost regularly on Thanksgiving is make tamales," Tecum-Box said. 

Tecum-Box further expressed his love for his mom’s tamales and discussed how he typically eats more than one. 

Each OU student has a different view and way of celebrating Thanksgiving, including international students. Emmanuel Awunkori, a Ph.D. student from Ghana studying educational research and evaluation, talked about how being in America has encouraged him to participate in Thanksgiving traditions.

“I didn't (know) much about Thanksgiving before, but I came to learn that Americans cherished it so I want to witness what they do,” said Awunkori in an email.

OU even has specific Thanksgiving events, an example being the annual Margaret Boyd Scholars Program Friendsgiving. Jellison said she attended the event last year and loved it. 

“It was very nice, it was a potluck,” Jellison said. “People brought lots of great food and we got together in the Margaret Boyd scholars lounge (with) faculty and students and it was very pleasant.” 

Whether students are relieved because they have a break from school, or stuffed and put into a Thanksgiving food coma, each has a special holiday experience. 


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