I can’t with a clean conscience enjoy the Thanksgiving Holiday as I have formerly enjoyed. What I was taught to believe about Thanksgiving as a child is mostly shit with a few kernels of truth embedded.
It is very common throughout recorded history for human beings to give thanks towards their spiritual deities for the fall harvests and this seems apparent through many differing cultures, times and regions of the world. It also makes a hell of a lot of sense to me that we would celebrate harvests with honor and respect as according to what we truthfully know about our being here, which seems not much at all to me. The unknown seems easily and naturally walled off with superstition and myths which provide us with a form of purpose and security from the unknown. So it seems good sense to a point in giving thanks and participating in Thanksgiving, in the present day form, and doesn’t really weigh on my conscience with this understanding.
It is other understandings that weigh my conscience and being conscious of the most likely truths of how the holiday came to fruition in this country does dis ease me or discontent me. The fact that I lived over four decades in ignorance of the most likely truths surrounding Thanksgiving disturbs me, and writing about it is a form of amends for me and my ancestors it seems.
One of my favorite American writers, Mark Twain, was very much a truth teller and seeker by what I have been exposed to of his writings. Mr. Twain in some writings was not favorable to the American Indian of his time period, but when one gets to speaking or writing the truth as they know it and are skilled at telling it, their prejudice can be suppressed by the overwhelming passion that truth telling can endow over one’s imbued perception.
Mark Twain’s take on American Thanksgiving from volume 1 of his Autobiography-
“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”
Here is an excerpt from the Plymouth Thanksgiving Story by Chuck Larsen. The webpage is very informative and seem a bit more near the truth than what I recall being taught as a youngster.
It is sad to think that this happened, but it is important to understand all of the story and not just the happy part. Today the town of Plymouth Rock has a Thanksgiving ceremony each year in remembrance of the first Thanksgiving. There are still Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts. In 1970, they asked one of them to speak at the ceremony to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s arrival. Here is part of what was said:
“Today is a time of celebrating for you — a time of looking back to the first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. When the Pilgrims arrived, we, the Wampanoags, welcomed them with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end. That before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That we and other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white people.
Although our way of life is almost gone, we, the Wampanoags, still walk the lands of Massachusetts. What has happened cannot be changed. But today we work toward a better America, a more Indian America where people and nature once again are important.”
The reality is that I look forward to being with family and friends over the next few days and a part of that reality is a four day weekend that is celebrated for being thankful. The history of how it came to be is best for me to let go of with the understanding of where my wealth is concerned and that is through relationship with myself and others. I can’t really change what others aren’t interested in changing and history is something that can’t be changed except through lies so I’m grateful to be content despite many understandings that can leave me discontent if I allow to fester. I am not ignorant of possible truths, but the truth that matters most is my relationship with now with respect. I haven’t discovered a better way of being, yet.
Here is a poem by Emily Dickinson on Thanksgiving named, One Day is there of the Series
One Day is there of the Series
Termed Thanksgiving Day.
Celebrated part at Table
Part in Memory.
Neither Patriarch nor Pussy
I dissect the Play
Seems it to my Hooded thinking
Had there been no sharp Subtraction
From the early Sum—
Not an Acre or a Caption
Where was once a Room—
Not a Mention, whose small Pebble
Wrinkled any Sea,
Unto Such, were such Assembly
‘Twere Thanksgiving Day.
I find that this poem speaks to me about being mechanical or being aware of not just going through the motions. I feel that hidden in here is not to lose sight of what was lost or suffered for a Thanksgiving day to be. I also feel that she mentions the unknowns, not recorded to be known as historic as to be thankful for them. I would enjoy reading different perspectives on the poem.
Here are a list of quotes that I found while looking for William Faulkner quotes on Thanksgiving.
” He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”- Epictetus
“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” -William Faulkner
“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” -Henry Ward Beecher
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” -Cicero
“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” – Aesop
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Thanksgiving like contentment is a learned attribute. The person who hasn’t learned to be content…lives with the delusion he deserves more or something better.” –Robert Flatt
Here is Pete Seeger singing Green Corn. Have a safe and content Green Corn Thanksgiving. :).