Thanksgiving blends various religious, political and harvest traditions into the main U.S. family celebration. It also opens the northern winter holiday season.
The main event for most Americans in the United States is often watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before sharing a Thanksgiving meal with family. Turkey is the traditional main course.
The Thanksgiving Story
It is supposed to commemorate a feast of thanks for survival and a good harvest that was shared by early English immigrants in Massachusetts with the Wampanoag people, the Indigenous Americans in the area, in 1621.
The feast really happened, but the details are part of the United States creation story. We are a diverse nation of immigrants. The purpose of the Thanksgiving story is to bind may people into one. That is a noble cause, but wouldn’t you rather be bound together in truth, than in lies?
What Really Happened
History is written by the victors. What we are taught as children is often not true. It is just a story, a fiction designed to cover up past evils.
The Puritans were a fringe religious group
First of all, the Puritans or “Pilgrims” were a fringe religious group.
The only reason they were allowed to leave England is because the English wanted nothing to do with them. Good riddance.
They had a tough journey because they weren’t well prepared for it.
The Puritans found land prepared for farming without people
The pilgrims had the good luck to crash land in a place that had already been cleared for habitation and farming, but was mostly abandoned. They basically walked into land that had already been developed.
The development was mostly empty because early travels of French and English explorers had introduced European diseases that devastated America’s Indigenous peoples who had no resistance to these foreign illnesses.
We are talking about tens of millions of deaths with an 80% depopulation rate. So in a family of five, there would be only one person left.
Back in the day, the English were proud of the plague they brought.
The “Indians” were not friendly and subservient
Depictions of the first Thanksgiving usually show many pilgrims and a few grateful and subservient “Indians.”
Actually the Wampanoag at the celebration far outnumbered the pilgrims. A proud people in a dominant position would never be subservient. They were probably just curious.
Wouldn’t you be curious if a band of “little green men” landed in your backyard? You would probably gather your friends and family and go check it out in numbers for safety, just like the Wampanoag did.
Some individuals helped the Pilgrims, but relations were generally tense. The Pilgrims began taking over trade that had always belonged to the tribes, and started a cycle of escalating acts of retribution for real and imagined insults.
Things blew up less than twenty years later in the Pequot War of 1636. It featured incidents like the murder of 500 men, women and children in retaliation for the murder of 1 pilgrim. That’s not exactly “an eye for an eye.”
It was just the beginning of a cycle of aggression, false promises and betrayal of Indigenous peoples in the Americas.
So this is what we are actually celebrating. Binding us together is a good thing. Celebrating lies, betrayal and genocide is less so.
As an American of the United States, I was born and raised to believe that we stand for truth and fairness. I still believe it, but we have to swallow our history whole, with all the good, the bad and the ugly.
Accepting our mistakes makes us a better people. Truth, fairness and opportunity is the light of the American Dream. By acknowledging our past, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
If you want to get historic about it, have Thanksgiving dinner at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan’s Financial District.
Taverns in that era were more like union halls where you could get news and find work.
There are stories that tavern owner Samuel Fraunces was African, French or Haitian, but nobody really knows. Given that his last name basically means “French,” and that Haitian is mostly French-African, the story rings true.
Fraunces Tavern played several minor roles in the American Revolution. It is where George Washington bid farewell to his troops when the British finally abandoned New York in 1783.