I will apologize right upfront about my natural skepticism concerning Thanksgiving. Is nothing sacred? Nope, not really. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve seen seemingly “nice” people reveal their ruthless need for power and drive motivated by greed. The first Thanksgiving was more of a political maneuver of the times by the Wampanoag tribe to see if they could form an alliance with the English settlers to help them stave off attacks from their rivals, the Narragansett tribe. The sanitized version of the first Thanksgiving would have us believe that the Pilgrims were the first European settlers that the Wampanoags had ever seen, when in fact they had been dealing with Europeans for many years. When it came to the Pilgrims they were merely being cautious.
The Wampanoags were fully aware of the Pilgrims as the Mayflower explored along the north shores of Cape Cod. The Wampanoags were well established on the Cape and they numbered around 3,000 on Martha’s Vineyard. Their experiences with English explorers had already exposed them to double-crosses, taught them that the Europeans would weaponize disease, and were more than willing to take natives as slaves for trade in Spain. A couple of native men had been taken to Spain, escaped, and found their way back to the new world with enough information to warn the Wampanoags of what they could expect in the future. There are still 4,000 or 5,000 members of the Wampanoag tribe living on the Cape and the islands and just off the Cape. To put it in the vernacular, they have been jerked around since the 1600s, rarely catching a break.
But Thanksgiving. It’s all about sharing and goodwill and giving thanks for what we have. It is a nice holiday with the best of intentions that is so riddled with irony, yet it perseveres and deservedly so. Sure it is commercial. All those turkeys, all that squash, and especially the cranberries. The cranberries, grown in the heart of Pilgrim country all around Plymouth and its environs. They even grow them out in Michigan now, but that’s another story. Thanksgiving transcends skepticism because of its purity of intention. The Pollyanna intention of Thanksgiving could almost pave over the brutal land grab and the cultural destruction it took to create what we live in today. A country that is mature enough, that is old enough to be able to come to grips with its past. Maybe we can be big enough to admit what our forebears did and apologize in their stead. Baby steps. This is a great country that we can still love while acknowledging its imperfections. We’re finally mature enough to do that. We all need to consider it seriously.
I’ve enjoyed some wonderful Thanksgiving dinners with family and friends and I’ve got a lifetime of good Thanksgiving memories. I’ve also spent my share of Thanksgivings alone with a Hungry Man frozen turkey dinner cooked in a microwave with plenty of family living all around me. Due to COVID-19, we’ll be hunkered down at home so we can hopefully live to celebrate with others next year. I’m aware that some do not celebrate Thanksgiving for personal, philosophical, or political reasons and that’s a part of who we are as well.
I’d like to think that the spirit of Thanksgiving is just as all-inclusive and indicative of the intent of our constitution. I’m circling back to the intent of the holiday. Whether you celebrate it or not, the intent of it is to be thankful for each other, thankful for what we have, thankful for the freedoms that we have, thankful that all colors, creeds and religions can be included in this country.
However, it’s just lunch. While the original intent was survival, both for the Pilgrims and for the Wampanoags, the intent of Thanksgiving today is whatever we want it to be. Every generation gets to put their mark on the world, and maybe Thanksgiving for now and the future should be about being thankful for our diversity, our ability to address our past along with its shortcomings. It may be just lunch, but everybody ought to feel comfortable showing up.