From the truth about the first Thanksgiving to the history behind Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the History Channel and Workaholic Productions had their hands full with creating “The Real Story of Thanksgiving,” which premiered Thursday night at Plimoth Plantation.
The show, which will air on the History Channel next Monday at 9 p.m., is one of three episodes dedicated to revealing the truth about the holidays. Workaholic Productions also produced “The Real Story of Halloween” last month, and will air “The Real Story of Christmas” on Nov. 29, also on the History Channel.
But for co-producer and co-owner of Workaholic Productions, Matt Hickey, who grew up in Hingham, the Thanksgiving episode was his favorite to produce, as it took him back to his South Shore roots.
“I love Plymouth. I love the plantation,” Hickey said. “It was fun to come back as the co-owner of my own production company and be able to do this. I almost feel like I’m giving back a little bit to the hometown area.”
The History Channel went to Workaholic Productions, which also produces Modern Marvels, with the holiday-themed idea, and got an enthusiastic reaction.
“Being a Massachusetts booster whenever I can be, I said, ‘We have to do this,’” Hickey said.
Richard Pickering, deputy director at Plimoth Plantation, agreed that when Hickey and Luke Ellis, co-producer of Workaholic Productions, called him with the idea of using Plimoth Plantation as a studio space, he needed no persuading.
“We are the museum of Thanksgiving,” he said. “As historians, even though we are a museum of the 17th century, we need to be able to put that first Thanksgiving, that 1621 Harvest Feast, in the context of the American Holiday, because most Americans look at Plymouth as the birthplace of the holiday.”
The movie, Hickey hopes, helps do just that.
Building up from the Harvest Feast of 1621, when the Pilgrims just celebrated being alive, to the football-obsessed holiday we know today, the 45-minute film explores many facets of the holiday.
“[History Channel programming] really likes to talk about the facts and figures and the information that maybe you think you know, but don’t exactly know. Like a lot of people think that the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day, and it isn’t. Or that turkey makes you sleepy because of the tryptophan, but that’s really not why,” Hickey explained.
Yet the show also covers more serious aspects about the roots of the holiday, examining how the Native Americans showed up to the feast after hearing gunshots, and not because they were invited. In the end, the movie states, the native people joined in the celebration, contributing food to the party and far outnumbering the Pilgrims.
“I think a lot of people have this nice image of the Pilgrims from they were in grade school. And that’s a nice simple story, but the real story of what really happened in 1621 is so much more interesting,” Hickey said.
In addition to scenes recreated at Plimoth Plantation, the film also featured shots of Old Ship Church in Hingham, as well as Bongi’s Turkey Roost in Duxbury.
The project took over a year and a half to complete, and involving innumerable Plimoth Plantation staffers.
Overall, the event was a daring undertaking because of its extreme significance to American culture, said Ellie Donovan, exectutive director for Plimoth Plantation.
“[It is difficult] due to the fact that the event has been woven into our nation’s mythos, into our sense of who we are as a people, and where we come from. It is an iconic symbol of corporation and friendship for some, the testimony to the faith and courage of the pilgrims for others, and for still others, a symbol of the oppression and cultural genocide that followed much later,” she said.
“Let us approach the subject with great humility,” she said. “[Because] everyone involved in this project knows that, without a doubt, there will be others coming after us who will attempt to tell the story again.”