2021 is (supposedly) the 400-year Anniversary of Thanksgiving in the United States. History tells us that In 1621 the pilgrims came over from England and were met by a tribe of Native Americans on the shores of MA by the Wampanoags. This is what they taught us in grammar school, and this is where things get a little skewed and it becomes very difficult to know WHAT to believe, since historians throughout the history of the U.S. are still debating its origin. The biggest take away of all? NO where is it definitively documented that the Pilgrims actually celebrated the tradition now known as Thanksgiving on a yearly basis. That’s right, you heard me right. It is not officially documented anywhere! (Please prove me wrong and I’ll eat cornbread) So what gives?
What are we to believe, and does it really matter at this point in time? The idea of Thanksgiving, after all, revolves around giving thanks to God and expressing what we are grateful for, so what’s the point of the massive feasting, gathering and getting a day off from work (hopefully!) Let’s take a look at some pieces to this puzzle and see if we can put something together that actually justifies this national holiday which by the way, didn’t officially become a national holiday until 1817, when the state of New York proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November the official holiday of Thanksgiving, even though it had already been established as an annual holiday in 1763! And why the heck is it the fourth Thursday, anyway? Confused yet? Let me keep trying, you’ll get there!
Other people believe that Thanksgiving really began in 1565, when the Spanish explorer, Pedro Mendez de Aviles landed in what was to eventually become St. Augustine, FL with a crew of about 2,000 in eleven ships. He gave thanks for their safe journey and invited the Timucua Tribe of Natives to join them in their feast, but he wasn’t friendly toward the natives, no. De Avila actually had many of them slaughtered, as did the French, way back in the 1500’s, much sooner than the black-hatted Pilgrims did. Seems we have a history of this. Look at the Portuguese, who went to Brazil to do the same and enslave the Natives that they didn’t already kill. We have a world-wide barbaric history of the kill-or-be-killed mentality. What we don’t do out of love, we do out of fear.
I don’t want to be a party downer, but someone has to say it….before the Pilgrims arrived (why are they called Pilgrims, anyway?) some European traders (again, supposedly) brought a very unwanted gift to the Wampanoag tribe of Natives- pandemic diseases. Take your pic: Influenza, Smallpox, Measles and Typhus Fever. The scourge wiped out more than two-thirds of their tribe before the Pilgrims arrived. Do you really think they welcomed them with big smiles and abled efforts? Me thinks not! Yet still, they reportedly taught the Pilgrims how to plant crops and fertilize them to ensure food for the harsh winter’s grasp. That fact is believed to be true, although who really knows for sure?
It is now speculative whether or not the Pilgrims actually invited the Natives for a feast of thanks, but rather, may have selfishly excluded them to protect their own food supply after learning how to gather and grow it in the first place. Keep in mind that New England offered a very different fauna, flora, climate and hunting scenario than England. Most of the crew that came over on the ships were indentured servants, including my ancestors. Yes, I am related to the servants who built the first settlements in what was to become the 13 colonies. I feel a sense of pride, but also hesitation, given what I am coming to know of the true history. These facts have drawn me closer to this day of Thanksgiving in a more insightful way. I want to know what it’s really about and honestly become more conscientious about it. America was founded by Natives, not newcomers. I think we need to acknowledge that and heal our wounds, make peace and respect our true elders.
What do you think? Does it matter? And was turkey even the main course? Probably not, because it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that documentation shows turkey as the preferred main course, simply because it was more readily available at that time. It was more likely that our English ancestors harvested and hunted whatever was available, i.e. venison, duck, fish and yes, turkeys if they were ready for the shooting. Although with muskets as the only hunting rifle at the time, it would have blown the poor poultry to bits, making it unappealing for the table!
Mother Bear, a descendent of the Wampanoag tribe and a tribal leader, has recently claimed that the Pilgrims forced many natives to convert to Christianity, with a ‘pray or die’ policy at one point among the people. Thus Thanksgiving actually became a day of mourning for them, not celebration. Imagine having to run away or be killed because you didn’t want to conform to practices that were not your own. Hmm…history does indeed repeat itself, doesn’t it?
“For us, Thanksgiving kicked off colonization. Our lives changed dramatically. It brought disease, servitude and so many things that weren’t good for Wampanoags and other indigenous cultures.”
It’s become abundantly clear the Natives don’t share our warm and fuzzy feelings about this ‘holiday’ when you consider that for our native ancestors, there’s no holiday aspect on their part; it’s more like a horror day for them. So what should we really be giving thanks for? Perhaps we can consider giving thanks to all of the Natives who showed us the way, sacrificed their lives for our own indigent pursuits.
And perhaps, we should be giving thanks every day, at every meal, for that which we are blessed with: the food on the table, the people we share it with, our very breath, our lives and our freedom to express ourselves and practice our beliefs, at least in this country of the United States of America, while we still can, and anything else we may take for granted on a daily basis.
Thanksgiving may very well be a man-made holiday, (a term used to combine Holy and Day, which it is not!) as are so many others; let’s not forget what it’s all really about. We need to raise our consciousness instead of just our glasses, and evolve to a higher state of being by choosing not to ‘celebrate’ what was founded in pain and suffering. When will it be? Be grateful for your blessings, whatever they may be, and celebrate family, friends, acts of kindness and compassion. You can still gather, enjoy your ‘holidays’ and your country, but until we rise above the false pretenses, we will not heal our wounds or come together as a people. United we stand, divided we fall prey to the untruths and falsified history.
What’s that you say? Can’t we just gather, eat food and watch football without the dark history lesson, the guilt, the shame? After all, that was 400 years ago and times have changed! Well, maybe so, but apparently we haven’t. As evident in our present pandemic, history indeed does repeat itself. Take a look around and decide for yourself. We don’t live in the past, but we live with it, and if we don’t do something about it, we will see the same fate as the Native Americans, only this time we are the indentured servants (if you’ve awoken then you know what I mean) in a society nearly extinct of morals, values, traditions and most importantly, principles. This is the danger of losing our true history.
“Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives Thanks to God.”
Here’s a link to the podcast of this blog entry narrated by your very truly: