Early in November 1620, after a rough Atlantic crossing of about two months, an aging ship called Mayflower arrived in the coastal waters of what we today call Cape Cod Bay. By mid-December, the colonists had chosen a site they called Plymouth, which is about 40 miles south of the current city of Boston. Although English colonization had begun further south in the Chesapeake Bay area over a decade earlier – not to speak of even earlier Spanish and French efforts – the arrival of the Mayflower is frequently imagined by many in American mainstream society as the founding moment of the United States. Largely spurred and popularized by the Thanksgiving holiday, this founding myth all too often minimizes the impact of colonization on the indigenous peoples of the region; theirs is a history that hides in plain sight.
It is one of the founding myths of “German Americana” that the first migrants from German-speaking territories arrived on October 6, 1683, on North American soil. Unsurprisingly, German Americans have always sought to celebrate this particular date in order to promote and to secure German American traditions and interests. Such celebrations, formerly often called “German Day,” flourished during the 19th century and ceased after the world wars. After the 1983 tricentennial, German American stakeholders were able to revive and to continue the celebrations: On August 18, 1987, Congress approved a joint resolution to designate October 6, 1987, as German-American Day.
Since that time, most American presidents have issued annual proclamations to celebrate the achievements and contributions of German Americans to our Nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs. Also, German American societies have taken on the ‘task’ and included annual German-American Day celebrations into their calendars, often in combination with the famous Oktoberfest.