America’s Parks Reveal a Different Kind of Thanksgiving

The day before Thanksgiving is a hectic day in America. Across the country, people are traveling, cooking, and making last minute trips to the grocery store.

But as we busy ourselves preparing for tomorrow’s feast, we ought to take a moment of pause to ask ourselves—what does Thanksgiving mean to us? The answers are sure to be varied.

As school children, we are often taught about the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, where colonial settlers and Native Americans celebrated a harvest feast in a day of abundance and thanks. And many of us recognize Thanksgiving Day as an opportunity to practice gratitude and to be with family.

But did you know that the first Thanksgiving, at least by history’s standards, took place near Jacksonville, Florida? Or that a collective group of indigenous people in North America celebrate Thanksgiving every day?

Like anything in life, Thanksgiving is sure to mean something different to everyone. Here are two national parks that shed a different light on our traditional Thanksgiving holiday.

Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve

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Situated near the St Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida, Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve has 46,000 square acres of wetlands, dunes, and trails for national park visitors.

The Theodore Roosevelt Area, donated by conservationist Willie Browne, offers both land and water trails for those seeking adventure in the outdoors, including the opportunity to rent kayaks for waterway exploration.

The history of Timucuan is equally interesting. The Timucua tribe first met Europeans in 1562, when they came across French explorers on the river. A mere three years later, the Spanish followed.

In his book, a Cross in the Sand, historian Michael Gannon asserts that the first Thanksgiving occurred 40 miles south of the Timucuan Preserve in St. Augustin, Florida. The Spaniards arrived on the Floridan shore to much fanfare, while members of the Timucua tribe looked on. After holding a Catholic Mass, the Europeans shared a meal with the locals, which consisted of garbanzo beans and salted pork stew.

This historical anecdote means that the first Thanksgiving, or at least a version of it, occurred almost 60 years before the pilgrims dined at Plymouth Rock.  It’s another example of the meeting of two cultures and the breaking of bread. And just think, if history had gone differently, we might be eating pork and garbanzo beans tomorrow instead of turkey and cranberry sauce.

Fort Stanwix National Monument

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Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome, New York, was a military fortress employed in not one, but two 18th century wars. Today, the fort appears much the same as it did in the 1700s, with guided tours, trails, and park rangers dressed in Continental uniform.

Originally built by the British in 1758, Fort Stanwix was first used during the French and Indian War, and was later reclaimed by Colonial Troops during the Revolutionary War.

The history of the park is also entwined with the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, a group of six Native American tribes who joined forces to live in peace. The Confederacy referred to themselves as the Haudenosaunee and included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora.

Although England managed to secure allegiance with the Six Nations, this neutrality did not last long. Colonists continued to encroach on the agreed upon boundaries and the Revolutionary War destroyed the land, villages, and culture of the Six Nations. Unfortunately, this same story is often repeated throughout history and is one of the reasons Thanksgiving can be a controversial subject with varying viewpoints.

However, the Haudenosaunee do celebrate Thanksgiving, not only as a day in November but as a daily practice.  The Haudensosaunee Thanksgiving Address is a “greeting to the natural world,” honoring all living things, including the earth, stars, and moon. The Thanksgiving Address is a beautiful expression of unity and demonstrates the importance of gratitude, not only on holidays but every day.

No matter what Thanksgiving means to you, or how you recognize it, Thanksgiving is a holiday that celebrates coming together and practicing gratitude. We’re thankful for a lot here at Chimani, and the beauty and history preserved in our National Parks are high on the list. What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

You can learn more about Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve and Fort Stanwix National Monument on the Chimani website.


Jersey Griggs is a travel writer for hire. A certified yoga instructor and an outdoor enthusiast, Jersey loves to ski, camp, and hike in national parks near and far from her home base of Portland, Maine. When not writing, she is certainly doing something outside with her husband and dog. To learn more, check out her website or follow her on Twitter.

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