Thanksgiving Is Not a Lie

The first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, 1914, by Jennie A. Brownscombe (Public domain / via Wikimedia)

It is a mistake to re-read the future conflict in the feast of 1621, a moment of courtesy and hope.

We live in a time of carefree iconoclasm, and therefore one of the country’s oldest traditions is under attack.

Thanksgiving is increasingly portrayed as, at best, based on lies and, at worst, a laundering of genocide against Native Americans.

the New York Times posted an article the other day titled “Thanksgiving Myth Takes a Deeper Look This Year,” bristling with hostility to Gratitude Day and noting that “the holiday comes amid a national struggle for justice racial ”. (The document is admirably consistent – a few years ago it published an article titled “Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong.”)

When Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton criticized Times article, as well as the newspaper’s stilted and dishonest 1619 project, that firm’s Pulitzer-winning architect Nikole Hannah-Jones responded in disbelief. “Imagine calling Project 1619 debunked in order to defend a childish Thanksgiving myth,” she tweeted.

Childish myth? It is true that demystifiers can score easy points.

The term “pilgrims” was not popularized until later. They did not wear austere clothes. They did not view their iconic gathering in 1621 as a formal thanksgiving, which would have been devoted to solemn religious celebrations. Etc.

But the basic outlines of the holiday are recognizable in this event a long time ago. The settlers who had arrived in the Mayflower in 1620 and survived a brutal winter that killed half of it, feasted, enjoyed the games, and marveled at the material abundance of their new home.

One of them, Edward Winslow, wrote to a friend that “our harvest having arrived, our governor sent four men to fowl, so that we may, in a special way, rejoice together after harvesting the fruits of our labors. He noted that “among other recreations, we exercised our weapons”. He concluded, “Although it is not always as abundant as it was right now with us, but by the goodness of God we are so far from need, that we often wish you to be part of our abundance. .

It is not inconceivable that they ate turkeys. Plymouth Governor William Bradford wrote of this fall: “In addition to the waterfowl there was a large supply of wild turkeys, of which they caught a lot.

And they celebrated, as we’ve all always learned, with friendly Indians. Edward Winslow recorded “many Indians coming among us” and “for three days we had fun and feasted, and they came out and killed five deer.

Tribes in the area had been devastated by disease after contact with Europeans, but could easily have wiped out the colony. Instead, the head of Wampanoag forged a deal with them, in view of a potential ally against rival Narragansetts.

Finally, the legendary Squanto has indeed provided essential assistance. He belonged to the Patuxet band who had lived in the Plymouth area and had been completely wiped out by the epidemic.

Finding his people gone (he had been kidnapped by an Englishman and sold into slavery in Spain before escaping), he joined the pilgrims and taught them much-needed skills, including how to plant corn. Bradford called it “a special instrument sent from God”. He was a translator, guide and, above all, the main envoy between pilgrims and neighboring tribes.

Peace with the Wampanoag lasted for about 50 years. It is a mistake to re-read the future conflict in the feast of 1621, a moment of courtesy and hope.

As Melanie Kirkpatrick explains in her story of the holiday, the colonies of New England finally instituted general annual days of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving as we know it was born from those days and from the memory of the event of 1621, with layers of tradition added over time (the official date at the end of November, the cuisine, the association with football, etc. ).

If we didn’t have such a day – to stop and express our gratitude to our Creator, to be thankful for the abundance of this great land, to reunite with friends and family – we would really have to make it up. .

© 2020 by King Features Syndicate