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Thanksgiving in the Hospital Setting: Sensitive Commemoration Ideas

By Jacquie Rahm, CCLS, CTRS-C, YMHFA

The goal of this post is neither to victimize nor villainize any particular group, but to instead provide some truer information on our national holiday, the “First Thanksgiving” in Plymouth, and offer ideas on how we can more inclusively and sensitively commemorate Thanksgiving in our professional settings. 

Many historical influences can be seen in our holidays, customs, and everyday practices. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that has a romanticized view of the historical events from which it was founded, and there are so many important events surrounding the First Thanksgiving that may put our current understanding and celebration into question. The colonists arrived in North America in the winter, had ran out of most of their food and supplies on the journey, and were not prepared for supporting life in their new home of Plymouth. Native Americans, specifically the neighboring Wampanoag peoples, helped the colonists learn the North American environment and ways to survive. One year later, thanks to the generosity of and skills taught by the Wampanoags, the colonists had a successful harvest. To celebrate, they indulged in a three day-long feast, similar to those they had celebrated in Europe. This celebration included feasting, games, parading, and shooting off muskets, but definitely did not include an invitation to the neighboring Wampanoag peoples (Dow & Slapin, 2005; NMAI, n.d.).  (NMAI, n.d.; Schupman, n.d.). Most accounts of the First Thanksgiving agree that it was a rare time of peace that lasted three days, likely as a means of political negotiations and partnership (Dow & Slapin, 2005; Native Knowledge 360, n.d.). However, this partnership did not last long, and the Wampanoag peoples’ kindness was returned with conflict, war, and thousands of years of loss of indigenous ways of life (Dow & Slapin, 2005; Schupman, n.d.). Below are ideas on how we can more inclusively and sensitively commemorate Thanksgiving in our professional settings.

Ways to Commemorate Thanksgiving in the Hospital Setting

1. Avoid gimmicks altogether and focus on the season of fall and being thankful. Decorate with general fall items such as pumpkins, leaves, and pinecones.

2. Share acts of kindness and gratitude. Activities like a thankful tree or bulletin board and compliment bingo or I-spy foster gratitude and kindness. Download ACLP's Thanksgiving Printables for activity and coloring sheets.

3. Incorporate true facts about the relationship between the Native Americans (specifically the Wampanoag) and the colonists.

Educate that the Wampanoag peoples taught the colonists how to farm in the North American environment, and gave them a lot of seeds and crops to start with (the colonists also stole some crops and seeds too). Include that the Wampanoag tribe realized the colonists were having a celebration and provided most of the food for the feast, including turkeys.   

4. Incorporate facts about different Native American groups. Acknowledge that the national holiday is not commonly celebrated by many Native Americans, as it commemorates their history of oppression, death, and loss of culture. 

Incorporate Native American art, literature, and foods into your typical celebrations. Look up which tribe(s) lived near your area and incorporate some facts, customs, and traditions into your celebrations. 

A note from the author:
 I am NOT Native American. The content from this post was derived from resources given to me from professionals related to Native American societies and history, including the Smithsonian. If you identify as Native American, or have close working relationships with any Native American organizations, please leave a comment below with your thoughts on Thanksgiving, this post, and ways we can better bring Native American cultures and perspectives into our work with children and families. 


Dow, J., & Slapin, B. (2005). Deconstructing the myths of ‘the first thanksgiving’. Abbe Museum, 11-18.

History (2023, 26 June). Thanksgiving 2023.

Loewen, J. W. (1998). Plagues & pilgrims: The truth about the first thanksgiving. Abbe Museum, 21-24.

Maranzani. B. (2023, October 5). How the ‘mother of thanksgiving lobbied Abraham Lincoln to proclaim the national holiday.

Native Knowledge 360 (n.d.). Rethinking thanksgiving celebrations native perspectives on thanksgiving. Smithsonian.

NMAI (n.d.) Harvest ceremony beyond the thanksgiving myth. Smithsonian.

Schupman, E., Simermeyer, G., Johnson, C., & Cuddy, C. (n.d.) American Indian perspectives on thanksgiving. Smithsonian.

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