I'm driving to Seattle next week to spend Thanksgiving with my brother and sister-in-law. Crossing icy mountain passes (McDonald, Lolo, Fourth of July, and the dreaded Snoquamie) is a memorable part of our family's Thanksgiving tradition. So are my sister-in-law's creamed onions, my cousin's delicious raspberry-cranberry relish, my nephew's artful apple pies, and the raucous game Scattegories we always play after dinner.
How do you and your students celebrate Thanksgiving? What do you remember of Thanksgivings from your childhood? How are Thanksgiving celebrations today similar to, and different from, the Thanksgivings of earlier times?
What has changed and what has remained the same is one of my favorite research questions. Answer this question by having your students interview elders about their Thanksgiving memories. MHS has a guide to using oral history in the classroom. It has great tips and training exercises that will be useful even if you don't choose to have your students conduct full-blown oral histories. I think an informal interview is more appropriate for this project, but all good interviews require scaffolding. Thus, I recommend brainstorming interview questions (and teaching them the difference between open-ended questions and closed "yes-no" questions) before sending them home to gather information.
Alternately, ask your students to look for answers in the historical newspapers on the Chronicling America site. To limit your search to Montana newspapers, select "Montana" from the list of states. Type the word "Thanksgiving" in the search box and see what comes up. After looking through a few articles, have your students to make a copy (or write down) something they found interesting (including the citation!). Share these items as a class and compare what you found to Thanksgiving today. A quick look at the historic newspapers had me thinking about Thanksgiving parades, shopping and what might politely be termed overindulgence. (You may want to assign students different pages from the search, so they all read different articles/advertisements).
Looking for a few good secondary stories about Thanksgivings past? Check out these from Ellen Baumler's Montana Moments blog: "Mining Camp Thanksgiving," "A Mild Thanksgiving in Wild Miles City, 1882," and "Thanksgiving Day Murder at Elkhorn."
Finally, check out this wonderful blog post, "Native American Perspectives on Thanksgiving," from our friends at Project Archaeology, which includes links to lesson plans, videos, and more.