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What really happened at that first dinner?

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Lisa Napoli: We keep hearing that high debt loads and economic uncertainty could pinch the spending habits of the almighty American consumer this holiday season. Marketplace’s Steve Tripoli found no fear of spending at the place that tells the real story of the first Thanksgiving.

Steve Tripoli: Even on a recent weekday, plenty of tourists mixed with loads of field-tripping schoolchildren at Plimoth Plantation. It’s a recreation of the world the Pilgrims stepped into in 1620, when they landed in what’s now Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The museum’s Ivan Lipton says U.S. economic news may look gloomy, but business is up in places like this.

Ivan Lipton: There is a significant trend, I think lately, for people to look for travel destinations that are focused on heritage and culture and history.

The plantation tells the story of not just Pilgrims, but the native Wampanoag people. They’d been here for millennia when the English landed.

Lipton: The stories that we tell about how those two cultures interacted have a great relevance to a lot of things in 21st century world.

Plantation Role Player: For this is a hasty pudding. You know hasty pudding?

A role player in the recreated colonists’ village describes life there. It’s a story at odds with many Thanksgiving legends.

Jennifer Monac: We don’t know for sure that turkey was on the table.

The museum’s Jennifer Monac says the first Thanksgiving was probably less a harvest feast than a sort of diplomatic mission by two sides wary of each other. She says the Wampanoag may have come to gauge the English firepower they had heard and to show their numbers.

Monac: We can infer that it was probably a show of strength on the native side. What we understand is that the English had been practicing arms, and maybe the native wanted to come and find out what that was about.

And forget about all those Pilgrim-filled paintings you’ve seen: The Wampanoag outnumbered the colonists 2-to-1 at that feast. They’re still very much a part of modern Massachusetts.

I’m Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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