The Washington Times and the Washington Post both ran related stories Thanksgiving morning alleging that the current story behind the holiday is a bunch of pro-Pilgrim propaganda.
The Post story begins, John Lennon-like:
Imagine a Thanksgiving Day without Pilgrims. No turkey, no cranberries, no happy celebrations with family and friends crammed around the extended dining-room table.
Picture this instead: a solemn day of fasting, meditation and introspection, followed by a light meal of roasted oysters and Virginia ham.
The counter-story is that Virginia settlers established a communal meal to be celebrated yearly two years before the Pilgrims managed that trick. According to people associated with a small non-profit group called Virginia Thanksgiving Festival Inc., this fact has been slighted by history due to a massacre of the colonists by local Indians.
The earlier Virginia observance was discovered in 1931 and acknowledged to have pride of place by none other than Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in 1962, but most people keep on stubbornly believing that the Thanksgiving they should celebrate was the one inaugurated by the Pilgrims.
It must be disconcerting to the Festival Inc. folks that even the curriculum of the state of Virginia says that Thanksgiving began with the Pilgrims. As one member of the Virginia Historical Society muses,
"No matter how imaginary or romanticized, the Plymouth story is a comforting story of harmony with the Indians . . . which may, in fact, have been the only moment of harmony before they killed them all. In Virginia, in fact, what they were most giving thanks for was having survived the Indians. It never had the same PR possibilities."
From the Times, we learn that the Virginians-Pilgrims rivalry "faces new competition from those who say the true first Thanksgiving was celebrated many decades before the English arrived at either Jamestown or Plymouth Rock."
OK, it's not so new, but it is true that the Spanish colony of St. Augustine, Florida shared a meal with the local Timucuan Indians way back in 1565. As the St. Augustine tourist officer explains, "while the Pilgrims were starving in the woods and fighting off the Indians, there had already been a thriving city here for over three generations."
And the St. Augustine model might be more easily grafted onto the current American holiday. According to the story, this alternative first Thanksgiving "most likely included wild turkey, venison, salted pork stew, and vegetables" and "[e]xpressions of thankfulness to God."
Then again, the Times also fingers other alternative first Thanksgivings and promoters of those narratives, including a group of Texans who say that a Catholic Mass conducted in 1541 near what is now Dallas should count.
I would attempt to adjudicate the claims here but I'm about to be too stuffed with turkey and mashed potatoes to think straight, let alone read or type.