Thanksgiving is always portrayed as such a warm fuzzy holiday. All the relatives gather for a feast in celebration of our great fortune and bounty. We ruffle the hair on the children’s heads as we pass the gravy. We toast each other warmly. Grudges are put on hold till the football games start.
The original Thanksgiving feasts were also celebrations of great fortune and bounty. But not exactly quite the way they are depicted in our schools revisionist teachings of the history. The pilgrims survived their first winter at Plymouth Rock thanks to those beloved Indians helping them through, with gifts of corn and other food. The three day feast celebrated their cooperative efforts getting through the winter……
Not so much I think….
More like –
In 1614, a bunch of English explorers left US shores after kidnapping any able bodied Patuxet Indian to sell back home as slaves. They left a gift that keeps on giving with the remaining Patuxet at home – smallpox. Which just about wiped them out. Later, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock there was just one Patuxet left – the famous Squanto, who could now speak English, and probably display the famous Eagle symbol would be my guess. Squanto tried to make peace between what was left of the Indians after the smallpox and influenza had wiped most of them out.
Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn and how to fish and made peace between them and the remaining Wampanoags.
Enter the arriving British Puritans, who had a penchant for assuming the land wasn’t anybody’s but theirs for the taking and the local natives merely savages available for slave labor and slaughter. The native Pequot Tribe celebrated a Green Corn Festival every year – which has become our current Thanksgiving holiday. In 1636 they were all ready to celebrate and went to sleep, in peaceful anticipation of a lovely celebration. While they slept, the enterprising Puritans, who were quite peeved that the Pequots had not agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated, taught them a thing or two!! Yes they did! As only those Puritans could. They hired out English and Dutch mercenaries to wake them all up and whoever came out of their tents were shot or clubbed to death and the women and children, who stayed scared out of their wits inside, were burned alive. Yippee! No more problems for the settlers!!
The Massachusetts Bay Colony governor declared the day “A Day of Thanksgiving!”
Aren’t we proud?
Well you know how bloodlust starts. And it, because of our very natures, started here. So village after village was decimated in similar fashion. Though some economic enterprise entered in as women and children over the age of 14 were taken as slaves and sold for profit. Plus Indian scalps were sold to bounty hunters as a corporate incentive program to keep the death rates up.
In what is now Stamford Connecticut, there was a particularly spectacular bloodbath against the Pequot. The churches were so joyous they announced a second day of “Thanksgiving” following the first. Here, the Pequots decapitated heads were used in the local soccer games as balls and the Wampanoag chief even had the honor of having his head impaled on a pole on display, proudly, for 24 years.
We sure were somethin’ back then, weren’t we?
The slaughter got to be such a fun thing – perhaps an inspiration for the current successful children’s book series – “The Hunger Games” – that almost every day of the year became a Thanksgiving celebration! George Washington, the party pooper, took it back to just being one day a year. And then Abe Lincoln made it a national holiday. He declared this on the same day that he ordered his soldiers to massacre the starving Sioux Indians in Minnesota. But history teachers don’t talk about that so much. They play up his “freeing the southern slaves” business instead. Better P.R.
Over the years, the holiday has been romanticized with love stories, like John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. And the chosen main course, “turkey”, which used to be the common term for goose or venison, became the bird we eat today. Along with side dishes that were about as historically authentic as the “cake” Marie Antoinette said the peasants could eat.
Not that any of this will change anything, mind you. So much time has passed between then and now, that I suspect we can all look at the true history, sigh regrettably, and then ask for another roll to be passed.
But in this time of no longer looking “through a glass darkly” if you will (as in long occurring instances of things like Sandusky’s child abuse and Gaddafi’s raping a nation) and taking a bit more immediate action, one can only hope that we might perhaps rewrite all of our histories through a more truthful lens. This would be decent of us – at the very very least.
And maybe we can begin to change Thanksgiving into a holiday where rather than gorging ourselves on delicious, but inauthentic food and then planting ourselves, glutted and drowsy, in front of sports games all day, perhaps we can turn the holiday outward and try to do some good in the world instead. Take a sandwich to a homeless family day! Hang out with folks who’ve lost everything and tell some raucous jokes day! Try to lift our corporate societal selves into a more transcendent uplifted place before we eat ourselves silly day. Though, honestly, I won’t hold my breath.
Instead of giving Thanks for all we have – which is not at all a bad thing don’t get me wrong – let’s go out and give others reasons to have thankfulness.
And to all you good people at food pantries – I hope you give out can openers when you give out the cans of food. I’ve always wondered about that.
Just a couple ponders, hons.