Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s fraught with contradiction and myth. It’s a celebration of peace and gratitude, yet the direct descendants of its original participants at Plymouth would be at merciless war with one another mere decades later. It’s largely contrived; history has not recorded even the precise month during the year of 1621 in which it took place, let alone narrowed the date down to the fourth Thursday in November. It’s also highly idealized; the image of Pilgrims and their native helpers sitting around a long table covered with cornucopia of nature’s abundance is certainly a false one.
What, then, is the truth? As Nathaniel Philbrick recounts in his 2006 book Mayflower, it was likely a rowdy affair, with 40-odd Pilgrims and roughly 100 members of the Pokanoket tribe “rejoic[ing] together” in a secular celebration in which games (some involving wagers) were played, and food and drink were in strong supply. The Pilgrims did not have linens or cutlery; they ate with their fingers and knives. Some spent the night with Pokanokets in their wigwams. Foods, customs, and language were shared. Above all, the first Thanksgiving marks a recognition that despite the “profound differences” between the two cultures, they were all human beings with “more in common than is generally appreciated today.”
Does this sound familiar? Think back on your own Thanksgivings spent at Thunderbird. With classes canceled, those who didn’t use the long weekend to travel likely came together in makeshift celebrations not unlike what is described above. Some had grown up with the tradition, while others would be far from home, encountering it for the first time. Traditional, home-cooked Chinese or African dishes likely shared the table with turkey and mashed potatoes. Cultural differences were embraced and celebrated, taught and learned. Those who participated contributed what they could, and all were welcome. Drink, as these photos prove, surely flowed.
Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, we at TIAA would like to convey our warmest wishes to you and your families this Thanksgiving. We hope that you look back fondly on your own T-bird Thanksgivings, and carry forth the traditions of cultural openness and generosity found on that little island oasis in Glendale, Arizona for the past 71 years. The celebrations that have taken place there, and continue to, are likely as close to the original spirit of Thanksgiving as can be found anywhere else.
Happy T-bird Thanksgiving.
Sincerely, Team TIAA
All photos from Thunderbird Yearbooks digitized and made public by the Arizona Memory Project. From top to bottom, photos are from 1961, 1966, 1968, 1971, and 1969 editions.