Like many social myths in our culture, our feel good myth about Pilgrims and Native Americans is quite distorted from the origins of this holiday. In fact, El Paso claims the first Thanksgiving celebration when Spanish explorer Juan de Onate celebrated landing in what is now Texas at the Rio Grande in 1598. Then again, Virginia also claims to have the first celebration in 1619, when 38 English settlers came over on the good ship Margaret and settled on the James River. Lastly, the Pilgrims held a celebration in 1621. This day was neither a special day nor a celebration in the US until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in 1863 for two Thanksgivings, one in August and one in November.
The idea of a feast also came much later, as the Pilgrims only had deer and some root vegetables to eat in the 1600’s. The idea of mashed potatoes, turkey, dressing, cranberry and fixings did not come along until the Victorians got involved and started a grand festival in the early 1800’s. The “Pilgrims” didn’t start celebrating until the late 1800’s.
Whatever version of the origins of Thanksgiving you accept, it is agreed that thereafter the settlers passed along plague-like diseases and decimated their peaceful indigenous neighbors with surprise attacks and little mercy. Men, women and children were killed without conscious or moral values. I am sure that Native Americans have a far different view of the white Anglo-Saxon holiday than the popular version.
Two things come to mind at this time of year. First, if the holiday started as a harvest festival as history suggests, we should be grateful at this time of year for all of the many blessings we have received. We must be grateful for the experiences that we deem pleasant and the ones we deem painful. We have to let go of the notion of good and bad entirely and simply accept life on life’s terms. When we do this, we can learn to be thankful for everything.
The other things that is quite ironic and glaring at this time in world’s history is the Syrian controversy. Here we are, celebrating a holiday that includes our gratitude for the help the indigenous people of this country gave to us in our time of need. Are we so hypocritical that we will take what is so freely given and refuse to help those in their time of need? What is the difference between our situation in 1600’s and the Syrian’s plight today? We say that we are afraid that these people have a few terrorists that will hurt us. Based on the way we treated the indigenous people, we should be afraid. We can’t escape karma, after all.
If there is any goal for this Thanksgiving, it should be to change our fear into compassion. We need to remember where we came from and the generosity of those who helped us. We need to learn a better way to deal with refugees, and come from a place of love rather than fear. The last statistic I read was there are at least 18.5 million vacant homes in the USA. The economy would get a much needed shot in the arm to let a few thousand hard working people get to work.
So as we enjoy our many blessings and food today, we should remember that the best gift of all is compassion. The only way we are going to bring peace to the world is to share with those who have nothing. I think it is fairly obvious that trying to bring peace through violence does not, and never will, work.