23 November 2007

The Thanks Giving Impetus

As you sat down with your families over a luscious and bountiful feast of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy, perhaps you pondered what you have to give thanks for. Distant friends and relations taking time off their busy schedules to come together in commensally shared spirits, convivially sharing warm fellowship. Perhaps you’re thankful for that. I wonder if you’ve ever wondered what the origins of this traditional giving of thanks were; if you’ve ever thought what the first givers of thanks were giving thanks too. Sure we all did the school plays with the happy pilgrims and Indians peacefully feasting together. But the actual story is much like that of Jesus’: one part history, one part myth, one part propaganda.

So, what are we really giving thanks for?
In 1637, the Pequot tribe of Connecticut gathered for the annual Green Corn Dance ceremony. Mercenaries of the English and Dutch attacked and surrounded the village; burning down everything and shooting whomever try to escape. The next day, Newell (a Penobscot Indian and former chair of the anthropology department of the University of Connecticut) notes, the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: "A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children." It was signed into law that, "This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots." Most Americans believe Thanksgiving was this wonderful dinner and harvest celebration. The truth is the "Thanksgiving dinner" was invented both to instill a false pride in Americans and to cover up the massacre.

A tribal holocaust has been painted over with candied yams and football; visits with grandma and Hallmark cards. Surprised? But really, when you think about it, is there any aspect of our culture/history/heritage that hasn’t been covered with consumerism, deluded with entertainment, dipped in a candy coating of sugary ignorance? Not really. Not anything I can think of, anyway. But hey, at least we have our freedom: our vote matters (if we choose from one of two parties), we can buy whatever we want (as long as it’s not a taboo substance or from Cuba) and we can speak our minds (when it doesn’t offend anyone).

Leftover turkey sandwich, anyone?


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