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Taking the Kids: Debunking Thanksgiving myths

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

There wasn't any pie, pumpkin or otherwise. No cranberry sauce or potatoes either. Nor was turkey the center of the feast.

More likely, culinary historians report, that first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims and Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe feasted on venison, shellfish, and while there might have been wild turkey, there were just as likely swans, ducks and geese.

If you think you are in a food coma after one Thanksgiving meal, remind the kids that the first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, as Native American families and Pilgrims who'd survived their first harsh winter came together to celebrate a successful harvest, thanks in large part to the Wampanoag.

A visit to Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts, of course, is a great way to debunk Thanksgiving myths as you explore a recreation of the Mayflower, Plimouth Plantation circa 1627 (chosen because it is well documented in historical sources) and the Wampanoag home site (Wampanoag means "Eastern People," or "People of the First Light.")

The kids might know the story of Squanto (his birth name was Tisquantum and he is also referred to as Squantum) who had been kidnapped by the English, sent to England and taught English so that he could serve as an interpreter and guide, Later, he would serve as an indispensable interpreter and adviser to the Mayflower settlers, teaching them to plant and fertilize native crops.

The children, of course, whether they were Wampanoag or settlers, worked alongside their parents. Ask your kids what it must have been like for them to arrive to such an unfamiliar place where those kids already there spoke a different language, ate different food, played different games and dressed differently. Consider the parallels to those in your family, or those families you know in your community, that immigrated from far away.

There was no pie at that first feast, by the way, because there was no butter or flour for crusts or sugar for the filling (likely the same reason the settlers wouldn't have made cranberry sauce from the tart berries). Potatoes hadn't made their way here yet.

I figure as we all sit down to a modern Thanksgiving feast, we should also debunk some modern myths that invariably threaten to derail celebrations no matter how carefully planned:

-- Relatives will tell you what a wonderful job you have done raising such well-behaved children. They won't. More likely someone will be critical that they won't stop fidgeting at the table, dress properly, eat meat ... the list goes on. All you can do is turn the other cheek -- and hopefully, laugh about it later.

-- The kids won't fight over each other's toys. They will. It certainly can help whether you are a guest or a host to advise the kids to put away (or leave at home) toys they don't want to share. Have a new game or two on hand that everyone can play together -- maybe even grown-ups.

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