What is so wrong with having one day each year set aside to be with family and friends, to eat, and to give thanks for all that we have?
It feels like all of our traditions and values are being attacked in the media and on Facebook. Our flag is being called a racist symbol, but that is not what I am talking about today. Small business owners are being closed down because they decline business due to religious reasons, while a well known designer refuses business just because she doesn’t like the woman’s husband, but she is called a hero. That, too, is not what I am talking about today.
What is troubling me today is that Thanksgiving is being touted as a racist practice that won’t be celebrated by many of our younger generation.
One reason for the decline in the real meaning behind Thanksgiving among our younger generations could be due to the opening of so many stores earlier and earlier each year, so that people are scarfing down their meals and running to stand in line to get the best deals. When I was a child, the family came together, and they stayed together through turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, veggies, turnips, sweet potatoes, pie, cake, ice cream, football, and snoozing on the couch. No one left unless they had more family or friends to visit. No one went shopping, because the stores were all closed. Now, so many families meet early in the day, eat a quick meal, and then rush out to shop.
That may have led to the dispassion and detachment from the values and real meaning of the day, and turned our younger generation towards a racist and hateful meaning.
In 1621, 395 years ago, the first Europeans (AKA Pilgrims) to settle in this land came together with some Native Americans for an autumn harvest celebration. They were giving thanks to God and to the Native Americans for getting them through the first year. That day, that one day, was a day of thanks and prayer. It set aside all the hate and all the fear. What happened to the Native Americans at the hands of the Europeans is tragic, but it does not erase the fact that but for their help, those first Europeans would have died, and the Pilgrims came together to celebrate that.
But that was not how Thanksgiving became a holiday.
The original national holiday, while based loosely on that “First Thanksgiving” in 1621, had little to do with what happened between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims as a whole. In the 19th century, an author, poet and magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale became captivated with the story of the “First Thanksgiving,” which was the story of the Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down to a meal together. Prior to that, President George Washington set a day of thanks and prayer, but it was only celebrated one year. Ms. Hale hoped for something more.
In about 1846, recipes for turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, food that was most likely not served in 1621, where historical accounts give hints of venison and pheasant, were published by Ms. Hale in the Godey’s Lady’s Book. Ms. Hale started traditions that had nothing to do with the colonists.
It wasn’t until 1863, 242 years after that “First Thanksgiving,” and 17 years after Ms. Hale started her campaign, that President Lincoln set Thanksgiving as an official holiday to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November every year.
Thanksgiving never was a celebration of the “invasion of the white man.” It was and still is a celebration of thanks that is loosely based on a harvest meal in 1621.
Historically people have started traditions and then changed them to grow with the times or to suit their own families/needs.
For example, the best man and groomsmen/ushers who stand beside the groom on his wedding day in modern ceremonies are a throw back to the “marriage by capture” era. During those times, the groom would kidnap the intended bride while the groom’s closest friends fought off the bride’s angry family. A tradition started, grew, and changed over the years to a celebration of the groom and the beginning of his new life with his chosen bride. Should we refuse to allow groomsmen at a wedding today because of how it started? Because of all of the brides who were kidnapped from their families? Because of all of the family and friends who may have died?
Has there ever been a civilization that has not conquered other lands or engaged in warfare? It feels like it is part of the human condition. Within the Native American tribes themselves, they had battles, skirmishes, and all out wars. One Native American tribe would war with another Native American tribe for control over the best hunting grounds, access to water, and as many other reasons as there have ever been for people to go to war.
When the European settlers came to this land, some were attacked and killed by Native Americans, which was, at times, unprovoked but for the fact that they were here. When attacked, the Europeans fought back. And, at times, the Europeans attacked the Native Americans in order to move into a plot of land or to capture them as slaves.
Who is to say who started the first battle? Like anything else, personal perspective goes a long way to color an account of historical significance. If you simply look at the age old battle between the Muslims and the Jews, each side thinks that it is right, and each side is fighting for what they believe.
Looking at the history of the United States from Britain’s perspective is much different than looking at it from our perspective. Such is the case in any conflict involving human beings. Should we refuse to celebrate the 4th of July because so many British soldiers were killed?
The current attack on Thanksgiving and everything that it has meant to me and to so many others over the years is making me very sad. No one who is alive today was responsible for what happened almost 400 years ago. It should not be forgotten, but we can continue to celebrate this day with a nod towards the past, and with a reminder that we should be thankful for what we have, because it can be lost in the blink of an eye.
What we make of Thanksgiving today can be a testament to the past while continuing to be thankful. School children are taught about those first settlers and the wars with the Native Americans that followed. I remember learning about the Trail of Tears and the other horrors that those first settlers perpetuated on the Native Americans.
While learning of the past is very important, children today are also taught to be thankful for their blessings, the people around them, their individual gifts, etc. One Thanksgiving activity that I always did with the children I was teaching, whether in school or CCD, was to make a turkey out of their hands and to write one thing they are thankful for on each “feather.”
This time of year so many people are donating food and clothing and volunteering in soup kitchens and food banks. Should they do that every month of the year? Yes. Of course. But we cannot negate that this holiday has the tradition of generosity to our fellow man. Without taking a pause of Thanksgiving Day, many would not stop the hustle and bustle of their own daily lives to think about those less fortunate. If this day is wiped off the calendar, will people pause to remember them?
Coming together with my family on Thanksgiving Day is special to me because it is a day when we all concentrate on our blessings. One of our traditions is to go around the table and say something that we are thankful for. I love hearing what my children, my nephews, my father, my sister, and my brother-in-law have to say.
While our path to this great country is spotted with tragedy, we need to remember those who went before us, those who shaped this great nation. Rather than forgetting our past and doing away with our traditions, we should treasure and celebrate our history, because the trials, tribulations, victories, and losses made us who we are today.
Have a very blessed and safe Thanksgiving.