Friday, November 13, 2015

Thanksgiving? For who?

Thanksgiving?  For who?

         Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  It is unique to me because it is not a commemoration of a war victory celebration, and only slightly borders on religion…after all, to WHOM do we give thanks?  I think of it as simply thanking the bounty of nature and let it go at that.
         I’ve liked the idyllic mental picture of native Americans and Pilgrims sitting down together, sharing peace and the bounty of the land.
         But lately, I feel the need to question the purity of this uniquely American Holiday. A few disturbing thoughts crop up, and invade the sense of self satisfaction in my mind. 
I suppose that somewhere in New England, European Pilgrims and native Americans did sit down in friendship.  It’s a nice picture.  But was it because of love, trust and brotherhood, or because firearms had proven more effective than bows and arrows?
         History, as taught, often fails to track with history as fact.  Examples of this dichotomy are there for any of us who didn’t give up thinking after eighth grade.  And when we suspend critical thinking we make mistakes.
         My discomfort comes from two basic directions.  First, peace and harmony between the European invaders and the Native Americans is largely myth.  Those indigenous people had already or were soon to be evicted from their own holy land by interlopers bent on stealing the land and destroying the culture.  For the Native Americans, Thanksgiving was more akin to the Last Supper rather than to a joyful and thankful feast.
         My other confusion about the holiday was thinking it was not a religious celebration.  To who were those of no faith bowing their heads at the onset of the meal?  Was it to the Native American or European sacred giver of all things?  And for what, exactly?  I think the thoughts at that first Thanksgiving must have been quite diverse.  The settlers had learned from the Indians, and to show their appreciation, were already in the process of dismantling an entire ancient culture.  And the expected result was that the people of the indigenous culture the europeans were murdering should be thanking the invaders for their ‘civilizing’ efforts.
         Those European invaders, and we who have culturally inherited their legacy, whether we came over on the Mayflower or later as part of the “huddled masses” in packed refugee vessels might have had a different take on Thanksgiving had we taken the time to explore the civilization we were burying, rather than just congratulate ourselves for taming the native savages. 
         So, my uneasiness concerning this holiday has as its basis, a skewed history full of racism, injustice and above all, cultural self righteousness.  We bestow this honor upon ourselves and upon those who came before us. 
         If, in fact, Thanksgiving is a semi-religious holiday which I believe it to be, at which time we give thanks for nature’s largesse, then to whom do those from whom we took everything…land…religion…customs and culture give thanks?  Do they have reason to give thanks living on tiny parcels of land called reservations? 
         But I think an admission is appropriate here. Fact is, I LOVE and believe in the Thanksgivings of my youth…Uncomplicated and guilt free.  I still have the feeling that it is about love, brotherhood, mutual respect and consideration. 
         My views are, without a doubt, inconsistent.  I have long given up the idea that they can be reconciled.  So I believe both versions at the same time, and make no apologies for my obviously hypocritically conflicting views.
         Let me leave you with a final premise: Thanksgiving is both the most beautiful of all holidays, even though it was to used to try to destroy an entire race of people.  How can those two truths exist together?  They should be mutually exclusive.
Ponder and hold these thoughts in deep contemplation for endless and untold hours throughout your life:
         But, whatever you do, don’t overthink things.

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