Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holiday Reveal Tuesday: Thanksgiving

It's Tuesday, and since Thanksgiving is NEXT WEEK, I figured it would be the most appropriate first holiday...

My blurb:
I like Thanksgiving, a lot. Primarily because I like to cook and eat, a lot. If that were all I could do, I would probably do it. I used to dream of having a slew of children, just so I could feed them. I love the image of children running under my feet like chicks, asking for cookies. It warms my heart. I'm a little strange, I know. Last Thanksgiving was especially wonderful for our family, because we told our families that we were pregnant with Dmitri! = )

The legend:
Most American children can tell the story of Thanksgiving from the age of three or four. There were the pilgrims that came to America because they wanted freedom of religion, so they came over on the Mayflower, and there's a baby named Oceanus born on the boat, and they meet Squanto and they are friends with the Indians. They all sit down to a nice friendly meal to thank God for his provision. And thus, Thanksgiving was born.

What really happened?
The real Thanksgiving story is probably not something one would want to see in a painting. Firstly, the Pilgrims were definitely not the first European settlers to what would become the United States. There were the Spanish and the French in the south, from Florida to San Francisco, nearly a century before the arrival of the Mayflower. 

Secondly, the plagues, that wiped out nearly 95% of the Native Americans, is completely forgotten. It is estimated that the population of the Native Americans was nearly 100 million (more than all of Europe!) before they caught diseases from European fishermen. It wiped out whole villages across North America. The Pilgrims did not forget about the plague however. They thought the plague was God's gift to Europeans. "King James of England gave thanks to Almighty God in his great goodness and bounty towards us for sending this wonderful plague among the salvages" (Loewen 87). (I have to break here, and say, my heart is completely sick over this religious spirit.)

Wondering why Native Americans did not have plagues before contact with Europeans? (Europe has had several by this point.) They were clean.  There is an image of "savage" Indians, wild heathenism, and uncivilized villages, that often surrounds the Native American culture when the Pilgrims came to America. But the reality is, they were quite progressive, perhaps even more so than Europeans. According to Ziner, Squanto's biographer, Squanto begged the pilgrims to bathe, but to no avail. He said that they smelled! (Loewen 79).

And so, the pilgrims arrived, and then what do our humble, pious, religious fathers do? They ROB the homes and graves of all the dead Indians that they are so happy that died. How... respectful.

And so they have Thanksgiving. A typical story says, "They served pumpkins and turkeys and corn and squash. The Indians had never seen such a feast." Of course, let's just ignore that all of those foods are indigenous to North America, and were foods that the Pilgrims had never seen! (Loewen 95.)

"In 1970, for example, the Massachusetts Department of Commerce asked the Wampanoags to select a speaker to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing." Frank James was selected, but in the end was not allowed to read his speech. Here is what is said...

Today is a time of celebrating for you...but it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People...The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors, and stolen their corn, wheat, and beans...Massasoit, the great leader of the Wampanoag, knew these facts; yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers..., little knowing that...before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoags...and the other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them...Although our way of life is gone and our language is almost extinct, 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 new nutshell
 The Indians were killed by plagues that they caught from stinky stealing Pilgrims who were religious crazies, and they gave thanks to God for killing most of the Native Americans by eating traditional Native American food. 

The negotiation
How do we reconcile the negative elements of our beginnings in America and what do we tell our children? I think its important to be honest, and to recognize all elements of our culture. I want to respect Native American culture, and honor it. This of course does not mean we cannot celebrate Thanksgiving or any other holiday, because what is important is what the holiday has become, and what it is to us now. But let's not forget our history and where we came from, and the truth of the sad story of Thanksgiving.

For more information, check out the book, "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James W. Loewen. It has many fascinating facts concerning American history.



Jillian said...

Very interesting!!

Sheena Louise Roetman said...

I'm Native, and I celebrate American Thanksgiving. Not really because of the history behind it, obviously, but because of what it CAN mean. My family doesn't celebrate the idea that we are thankful for the Europeans and their so-called civilization of this country, but we dwell a lot on what we ARE thankful for -- Good health, good food, and good company. I'm a big believer in focusing on the positive -- It would be counter-productive to spend the day being pissed off.

Caroline @ The Feminist Housewife said...

Agreed Sheena! Thanks for commenting! I do think its important to celebrate holidays for what they can mean, and for what they've become- not just their origins.

Anonymous said...

this is great caroline!
p.s. you guys are awesome.