Subject Areas: Social Studies, History
Objectives: To provide an understanding of thanksgiving traditions in the Wampanoag tribe
TimeFrame: 1) Background (one class period) 2) The U.S. National Thanksgiving Holiday (one class period) 3) About Cranberry Thanksgiving (one class period) 4) Cooking Activity (two class periods)
Some people believe that the Pilgrims celebrated the “first” Thanksgiving with the Wampanoag. However, the Wampanoag have a tradition and way of giving thanks that began much, much earlier than the harvest festival the Pilgrims and Wampanoag shared in the 1620s. It has been documented, in fact, that our Tribe has lived on the lands we still live on (called Aquinnah on the island of Martha’s Vineyard) for at least twelve thousand years!
Read what tribal elder Gladys Widdiss has to say about the Wampanoag and thanksgiving:
“Every day (is) a day of thanksgiving to the Wampanoag . . .(We) give thanks to the dawn of the new day, at the end of the day, to the sun, to the moon, for rain for helping crops grow. . . There (is) always something to be thankful for. .. Giving thanks comes naturally for the Wampanoag.”
These thanksgiving celebrations within the Tribe continue today. In addition to daily thanks there have always been set times for celebration that coincided with changes of season and harvests times. Our New Year comes at the Spring planting time. Summer is celebrated with Strawberry Thanksgiving, at the time when the first wild berry ripens. Green Bean Harvest and Green Corn Harvest come at mid-summer. Cranberry Harvest celebrates the ripening of the last wild berry. A ceremony is held around the time of Winter solstice as well. The harvest celebrations are held after the work has been completed. The celebrations held at these different points in the year are times of reflection and a prayer of thanks to the Creator for providing sustenance for our people. Our celebrations have always also included singing, dancing, and the sharing of
food throughout the community.
Gladys Widdiss goes on to further explain the importance of this thanksgiving:
“With Native Americans you do not separate the spiritual from the rest of your life. You’re very involved with who you are, where you came from , and where you are going. We have special holidays or festivals, but every day is a day of thanksgiving.” 
She gives this example of giving thanks that her grandfather set:
“We had only the one wood stove downstairs. I remember (my grandfather) would get up and go downstairs each morning in the middle of winter. No matter if it was snowing or raining or sleeting, he opened every window in the house at least for five minutes. Then he would dance and sign to give thanks for the fire.” 
* Are you surprised by this Native American tradition of giving thanks? Do you think it is a good idea to celebrate thanksgiving many times throughout the year, rather than just once? Explain your responses.
* What do you think Gladys Widdiss means when she says “we do not separate the spiritual from the rest of our life” when speaking about Tribal thanksgiving traditions? How is this different from the celebration of the U.S. national holiday of Thanksgiving?
* How might living on the same land for twelve thousand years have affected the Tribes perspective on giving thanks for their resources?
What things are you thankful for “every day of your life?” Invent and describe some ways you might celebrate those things daily.
The U.S. National Thanksgiving Holiday
Now read what another Wampanoag tribal member has to say about the national holiday of Thanksgiving celebrated each November:
“This is a time . . . to look back, a time of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back at what happened to my people.” - Frank James, Aquinnah Wampanoag, from a speech James was banned from delivery at a conference in 1972
Internet Research Activity
For more information about the Wampanoag’s relationship to the national holiday of Thanksgiving and their history of conflict with the European settlers, visit the following:
Also, teachers can find interesting primary information about the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag and the event of thanksgiving in Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation. Mourt’s Relation is a diary written primarily by pilgrim Edward Winslow, along with contributions from William Bradford, in 1621.
Using the above sites and sources, assign children in pairs to research and answer the following questions:
* What do you think Frank James is referring to when he says “what happened to my people”?
* What differences did the settlers and the native Wampanoag people have that led to the Wampanoag losing much of their land?
* What was your impression of the “First Thanksgiving” between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims before studying the Wampanoag?
* What is your impression of that thanksgiving between Wampanoag and the Pilgrims now?
About Cranberry Day
The tradition of giving thanks to the Creator for a good harvest is an ancient one, both for the Wampanoag, as well as for most people who are not Native American. As you read the questions and answers about our celebration called Cranberry Day, compare it to the U.S. national Thanksgiving holiday celebrated in November. Cranberry Day is the most important and meaningful holiday of the year for us.
Wampanoag Language Note: Wild Cranberries are called sasumuneash in Wampanoag.
What is Cranberry Day?
Our people have always had a cranberry harvest celebration. Cranberry Day is one of the many thanksgiving celebrations that happen throughout the year. Our ancestors have always taken time to go to the bogs and harvest the cranberries together; that is why Wampanoag children have the day off from school. During the morning and throughout the day only tribal families come to bogs to harvest. After everyone has had time to harvest, all the families get together and have a community lunch. Some of the elders tell about cranberry days from their past before we eat. Then, while we eat, some of the men and boys drum and sing. Although the day’s activities are for our tribal families alone, we invite our neighbors to come to a pot luck dinner during the night. Some families cook foods using the cranberries, so everyone can get a taste of
Why is Cranberry Day so important to the Wampanoag?
Cranberry Day is an important holiday for the Wampanoag tribe because it gives us a chance to give thanks to the Creator for this fruit that has always helped our people survive. The cranberries are stored and used throughout the winter to help vary our diet. In the old days, fishermen who went out to sea for a long time would take cranberries with them, knowing that the vitamin C in cranberries would prevent sickness. In the old days, some of the harvest was sold on the mainland and the money was used to purchase items that weren’t grown on the island, like molasses and sugar. We have continued to celebrate the Cranberry harvest, remembering the different ways the cranberry has helped us. That is why Cranberry Day is an official Tribal holiday.
How were the cranberries grown?
Out of respect for nature, the Tribe does not weed, fertilize, or otherwise tamper with their cranberry bogs. The cranberries are completely wild. As elder Gladys Widdiss explains:
We say, let the Great Spirit take care of them. Some years we have a lot of cranberries, some years we don’t have as many. 
What did the cranberry harvest celebrations at night include?
Dancing, eating good food, singing and socializing with friends new and old.
What food was served at Cranberry Day celebrations (besides cranberries)?
Chowder, quahogs and venison! The meals that are eaten during the celebrations are called potluck. Every family or individual makes different dishes to share and you never know what someone might bring. At celebrations like Cranberry Day, everyone looks forward to different families’ making their own personal specialty, which is often a community favorite.
What did the tribe do with all of its cranberries?
Gladys Widdiss, a Tribal elder, recalls cranberry days of her youth.
“We picked for two or three days, enough for what we figured we needed through the winter and more. While waiting for our elders to finish picking in the afternoon, we would race cranberries down the dunes. We would make a trough from the top of the dunes to the bottom; sometimes snake like, some times straight, and set the cranberries in a line at the top; push them to start, and see whose reached the bottom first.”
Helen Manning, a Tribal elder, remembers arriving at the bogs in an ox cart and filling up the carts with the cranberries they picked to store them for the remainder of the year. She remembers that a friend’s parent, another member of the Tribe, had a room in their house just for storing the cranberries that had been picked during the three-day festival. Not having central heating throughout the house kept the rooms cool, and the cranberries lasted through the year. Helen remembers the story, “that my father, as a young boy, used to go into the room and enjoy hearing the popping sound as he stepped on the cranberries”. Helen said the cranberries were used for very simple recipes. Her mother used them to make cranberry dumplings, cranberry sauce and cranberry cobbler. Helen said everyone had a cow in those days, so the
cobbler would be served with fresh cream.
How is Cranberry Day celebrated today?
Instead of a three-day harvest festival, the Wampanoag of today hold a one-day holiday. Children are excused from school and together, tribal members of all ages harvest cranberries. At lunch, everyone sits around an open fire while the elders share stories of their past with the children. Elders also share tribal stories, such as the legend of Moshup (hard link to Helen Manning’s legend of Moshup text). In the evening, there is dancing and singing. The tribe gives thanks to the Creator for the harvest, as we have done for thousands of years.
WebLink: See Cranberry Day and Wild Cranberries for more information about Cranberry Day.
In pairs, give children time to answer each of the following questions:
* Why might serving food made of cranberries be a major focus of Cranberry Day celebrations?
* How does the fact that the Wampanoag celebrate with food they have harvested differ from our modern day tradition? Do you think that eating food you have harvested, rather than food you have bought, would make you more or less thankful? Why?
* What makes storytelling so important to the Wampanoag? Do you have any stories in your family that are retold each holiday? What are they?
* What makes the role of the elders in the tribe important to the Wampanoag? Do you think the elder members of non-native families have the same role in their families and communities?
* Describe in detail how the two holidays of Cranberry Day and national Thanksgiving are similar and different. Do those similarities and differences reflect different perspectives of the Wampanoag people and the English people?
1. Using the beans, squash, and corn grown in Unit 1 (hard link to Unit 1) create a meal to celebrate the harvest.
Tip: Extend this activity into art/literature infusion by planning a day of story telling and singing to celebrate the harvest. Use children’s stories about the relationship between Corn, Beans, and Squash and find many resources for children’s music at www.cmnonline.org.
2. Make Gladys Widdiss’ recipe for Cranberry Crumble, a contribution she makes for Cranberry Day.
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
4 cups cranberries, whole, fresh, or frozen and thawed
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 cup oatmeal flakes
6 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream as a topping
1. In a bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, and spices and toss with cranberries. Place fruit in a well-buttered tart pan or 8-inch baking dish and set aside.
2. To make streusel, blend together the dry ingredients in a bowl and either cut in butter with a knife or pastry blender or blend in a food processor with a few quick turns of the blade. Add the pecans and mix or process until just blended.
3. Top the fruit with the streusel and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. Serve warm and top with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. Serves 6-8.