What We’re Giving Thanks For

I know this is ridiculously late, but I was visiting relatives in the Bay Area this weekend, and didn’t have much time to blog. Plus, traffic was so bad that each trip took over 9 hours. (Usually it’s around 7. A slog, sure, but doable.) For some reason, my husband and I thought we’d be the only ones zany enough to start the journey after work on Wednesday, but no, actually, everyone south of the damn Grapevine had that shitty idea. Who knew? It took us four hours just to get out of L.A. County. After midnight, when we finally decided to get a motel room south of Buttonwillow, we had to wait in line at the most crowded Motel 6 I’ve ever seen.


Plain(s)feminist and Nezua both wrote about the true origins of Thanksgiving, which I’d never heard before. (I’d always known that the Pilgrims-and-Indians-sitting-at-picnic-table version was more myth than fact, but I hadn’t known the extent of it.)

According to John Two-Hawks,

‘Thanksgiving’ did not begin as a great loving relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people. In fact, in October of 1621 when the pilgrim survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial ‘Thanksgiving’ meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited! There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of ‘pilgrims’ led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian chief, and an 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out! Officially, the holiday we know as ‘Thanksgiving’ actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony’s men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut. They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Mr. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of thanksgiving complete with a feast to ‘give thanks’ for their great ‘victory’.

However, this is one of a few versions of the story (and none of them involve the damn picnic table). According to the LA Times (via Rye Drinker),

Although there were sporadic local Thanksgiving days in Colonial and early America, it was not until the middle of the Civil War — 1863 — that President Lincoln issued a proclamation making the last Thursday in November a national holiday of Thanksgiving. Lincoln’s statement suggested that thanks were being given as much for “the advancing armies and navies of the Union” as for a bountiful harvest, and the president urged special prayers for “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”

I’m all for a harvest festival that allows me the time to see friends and family living 400 miles away, but why do we have to perpetuate such a pernicious falsehood? What justification is there for this?

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

One Response

  1. The history of interactions between the Natives and Pilgrims is very fascinating. This is especially true around Thanksgiving – it is informative to hear the real story behind this holiday.

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