"THANKSGIVING EVENT OF 1621." Historian Jill Lepore sees the eventual aftermath of the event as sad, sinister and all about cruelty and power.
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Any understanding of the early roots of the American colonies must be predicated upon the truth of the English colonists' treatment of and attitude and beliefs toward the indigenous peoples of mid North America. If Thanksgiving Day were in truth an extension of these early blights, recognition of the truth might indeed put a stain on subsequent Thanksgiving Days.
But Thanksgiving Day, to be perpetually celebrated on the third Thursday of November, was initiated and proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln as a national celebration of thanksgiving for liberty, freedom, equality and the preservation of the Union at the end of the Civil War.
As a result, I never think of pilgrims and turkeys and harvest thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day--nor of personal reasons for thanks. Instead, I think of freedom, equality, and liberty in relation to African Americans and of the preservation of the Union and wonder how and when this celebration was usurped by turkey feathers, Pilgrim hats, and autumn leaves. By the way, I think of Pilgrims' harvests, Native Americans' generosities, and harvest feasts on October 17th, the probable date on which the Pilgrim feast--at which Native Americans were guests--was held.
If Thanksgiving was a celebration of European military and cultural triumphs over indigenous peoples, as one might argue Columbus Day is, then I'd have a problem with it. But it is not, at least not to any family I know.
Whatever the original occurrence of the first Thanksgiving involved, I think we need to think about what this ceremony and festival can mean to us in the present. To me, as a British citizen who has lived and worked with Americans, I have been greatly blessed by the festival of Thanksgiving, not at all through its original colonial associations and disempowerment of Indians, but because it gives us a time in our frantic lives for us to share good food with friends and family and to think about all the many things we are thankful for. This is worth celebrating, in my opinion.
I don't tend to focus on the historical significance of the day, but rather enjoy the time off to spend with family and good food, and most importantly, to take stock of all I have to be thankful for -- including living in this great, but not perfect, country.
So 100 odd people attempt to leave England in two old leaky merchant boats which were not designed to cross the ocean, one of which (the Speedwell, how's that for an ironic name?) starts to sink, forcing the party to return to England, and double up into the now cramped Mayflower. Because of the delays in departure, rather than leave at the beginning of the summer as intended, they leave in September, the beginning of hurricane season in the Atlantic. Their money has run out for the voyage, and it's now or never, so they depart. After the battering the old boat took in the middle of the Ocean, the ship's main beam cracks, threatening them all with watery graves. Fortunately, among the ship's cargo to the New World is a printing press, which they dismantle, and use the main screw of the press to keep the beam of the ship in one piece. After 65 days at sea, most of which was in storm conditions, and horribly blown off course from their intended Virginia, they land in an area known as "Northern Virginia," on the grey frigid beaches of Cape Cod. Before landing, and to quiet the chatter of mutiny, the first self-governing document, the Mayflower Compact, is drawn up and voluntarily signed by the men to choose leaders and make their own laws. Upon landing, they rob Native graves, which held corn given as offerings so they could eat. Finding little else to sustain them, and after being attacked by the Natives, they shove off again and finally make landfall at the time of the Winter Solstice, 1620. It's the middle of winter in what was to be called New England, they are out of supplies, out of food, no shelter is available, and they cannot continue the voyage south. So they build rudimentary shelter and begin to starve to death. By spring, half of them are dead from starvation and illness. However, they sign a peace treaty, and with the help of two Natives, they clear the area and plant what they can. Natives and Pilgrims work side by side, and in October 1621, they have feast, and are grateful to be alive.
We all know the downside of what happened. But to dismiss all the tale of survival and thanks is wrong as well.
America is not filled with any more horrible past than many other countries. All history is the story of the strong vs. the weak. After all, we wouldn't be the United States of America if we hadn't killed a few British. We might be under Nazism or Communism or something else if we didn't have this "horrible" past from the 1940s. Why not rewrite history as Russia did if we are so ashamed of it?
Thanksgiving has come to be celebrated as a day on which Americans give thanks for their blessings, not a day of political angst.
Thank you very much for sharing the video. I have to agree with vangoghfan. For me, Thanksgiving is about how we celebrate it today. While our country is filled with a horrible past, it can be made better by the future. Being thankful is something that I simply do not think we should forget to do (even if it did not start out that way).
I would have to agree with pohnpei. There is much about the history of our country that is highly regrettable, just as there is much about the history of any country that is highly admirable. The important point, I think, is to focus as much as possible on making the present and future as good as possible for as many people as possible. Thanksgiving is a holiday that tends to really help appreciate everything that we do indeed have to be thankful for today. Thanks for sharing the video.
I, personally, will not, anymore than I would refuse to celebrate July 4 because America once stood for slavery or Christmas because Christians in some places and times have killed in the name of Jesus. Thanksgiving, for me, does not depend upon the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians. It is about our own lives today and what we should be thankful for.
The history of our country is full of wonderful things and progress, but they stand along side many bad things that we have done to others. Both are a part of who we are. When I celebrate Thanksgiving, I am not celebrating the fact that the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims, only to be hurt by their presence in horrible ways. Instead, I am celebrating the fact that I am incredibly lucky to have the life I do.
It is good for us to recognize that our country has done bad things in the past so that we can (hopefully) prevent it from doing bad in the present and the future. But we cannot allow the bad that we have done in the past to prevent us from celebrating the good, both in our past and in our lives today.
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