Unit 2: Most of Us — A real Thanksgiving
Moon Rise 2020 ~rch
Many people place a high value on speaking truth.
However, a place where truth telling is severely compromised, where we engage without thinking about the lies we are tell ourselves is the celebrating of holidays and traditions that have been part of our personal and collective heritage for years if not generations. Most of us tell stories or myths about the day which reinforces and unites us in our identity of being strong, successful and good. Our society as a whole has been making progress with the myth around Columbus day but the lies we tell ourselves and teach our children about Thanksgiving are even more pernicious because of the importance of the day for most of us.
First contact between Europeans and Indigenous populations was apocalyptical for Native people. This is true whether it was Columbus and Taino or basically every other tribe on the American continents. Each has its own story but none as etched into the US psyche than the encounter between the Pilgrims and the “Indians”.
“The myth is that friendly Indians, unidentified by tribe, welcome the Pilgrims to America, teach them how to live in this new place, sit down to dinner with them and then disappear. They hand off America to white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to liberty, opportunity and Christianity for the rest of the world to profit. That’s the story—it’s about Native people conceding to colonialism. It’s bloodless and in many ways an extension of the ideology of Manifest Destiny.” The Myths of the Thanksgiving Story and the Lasting Damage They Imbue. Instead the true reality is epitomized in the episode of Myles Standish carrying the head of Wituwamat back to New Plymouth. His soldiers were “received with joy.” Hailed as a hero, Standish mounted the severed head of the Indian warrior on a pole and displayed it on the roof of the fort. See: Murder by Myles Standish.
So where do we go from here? If we let go of the myth and start speaking truth can we still have a meaningful Thanksgiving? In all this work it is vital to understand that its not about taking anything away from anybody that is of any value. Rather, its to make our experiences in life and with each other stronger and more, not less meaningful. This can happen if we choose to tell the real story, framing in a way that is age appropriate for those gathered for a family celebration. More resources here. We can talk about the real lives of the Wampanoag (or whatever other people are indigenous to our locale). We can acknowledge that the Pilgrims were European immigrants and often didn’t behave in loving or respectful way. We can consider how we can do better. We can talk about the real reason we celebrate Thanksgiving which had nothing to do with Pilgrims and Native people; that in 1789 George Washington called for national day of thanks to commemorate the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution. We can share that the first official national Thanksgiving holiday didn’t come until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln called for an annual Thanksgiving celebration with words still most relevant today:
“my fellow-citizens… set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness [persistent or obstinate in what is wrong] and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”
Here and now we can consider the widows and mourners of today’s civil strife, the parents of the people killed by Rittenhouse, the family of Ahmaud Arbery and all the others, named and un-named. And today we also can talk about and express gratitude and joy at being together as we call upon the Source that Lincoln so eloquently suggested we praise.
Although a lot of the time its hard for me to believe, I have to trust that together we can build “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility”. The truth is that the earth rotates so the sun and moon appear to set and to rise as do the stars, all part of a whole, one with us in the universe. The only true path is through truth; a truth that we acknowledge, explain and teach our children. In this way we can make this an authentic and real Thanksgiving.
Have a joyous and meaningful holiday,