General Question

jonsblond's avatar

Is it time to rethink the meaning and traditions associated with Thanksgiving in the US?

Asked by jonsblond (38361 points ) November 9th, 2012

A Native American acquaintance of mine is posting information on her Facebook page about Native history and culture each day during the month of November. This is in honor of Native American Heritage Month and in protest of the history of brutality around Thanksgiving. Instead of posting a thankfullness every day, because Thanksgiving is a story full of genocide, this person is posting information on Native American culture every day.

I find this all very informative and I pause every time I see a friend post a reason why they are thankful each day of November. Just wondering what you all think about this.

The true story of Thanksgiving

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13 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

The origins of Thanksgiving may be cloudy, but the current meaning and traditions are well worth what they are. Thanksgiving is essentially a reflection of gratitude and joining together in peace to reflect on our blessings for the past year. Before it became a federal holiday, Presidents often declared days of Thanksgiving, such as Lincoln did during the Civil War.

The article linked is not complete: the first Thanksgving really was in 1621, not 1637 as cited.

Yes, much of he connection to the Pilgrims was embellished after World War 1, but remember that was part of the 1620 tricentennial celebration, with a lot of publicity about the Pilgrims and The First Thanksgiving. Much of New England from 1920 to 1940 had tricentennial celebrations, and there was much coverage in the eastern press and national magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post.

Anyway, nothing wrong with giving thanks and gathering family together.

psyonicpanda's avatar

US is notrious for “celebrating” the brutal slaugher youve just got to take it with a grain of salt. Though its a sad story, the out come and and True meaning of the holiday came out on point. its better to just be magnanimous and take it for what it is. Holiday to be thankful for life and the things you have.

trailsillustrated's avatar

I am going to hog down turkey and gravy and ham like it is the last time. And it will be. I am going home where we don’t have thanksgiving. It will be my last, turkey is expensive to non-existent at home, so I am going to eat eat eat. I don’t care about the history lol ps I am very thankful for this.

marinelife's avatar

I think the concept of Thanksgiving in a good one even though it may have evolved from something very different. (Which, by the way, is true of other major holidays including Halloween and Christmas.)

I will not be thinking about clashes between colonists and the predecessor culture hundreds of years ago on that day. I will be giving thanks for the blessings in my life, and that I do not live in those times.

trailsillustrated's avatar

I read ‘Black Elk Speaks’ a few months ago and apologise for my callouse answer above. I thought it was asking about something else. I again, apologise, I care very much about the history as far as native people were concerned. thought it was a peta thing sorry

digitalimpression's avatar

I don’t think it’s time to revamp a holiday that has become nothing more than being thankful and eating a good meal. If we are going to be picky about thanksgiving than every holiday will have to be revamped.

I’m never quite sure what’s wrong with people who want to put a negative light on a positive thing. It’s ridiculous. Long live Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, and all the rest.

Speaking of Halloween for Pete’s sake… do you really think the origins of Halloween are seeping into the brains of our youth or do you think they just like to dress up and get candy? It’s a no-brainer.

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jca's avatar

In my family, we gather, eat and discuss what we’re thankful for. Yes, some may say you can do that any day, or you SHOULD do that every day, but we don’t, or at least we don’t necessarily verbalize it. It’s also good to teach the young child (mine) things we should be aware of being thankful for and not taken for granted.

CWOTUS's avatar

The link is not entirely untrue, but it is false that “the first Thanksgiving” occurred in 1637. As @jonsblond noted, the first Thanksgiving really did occur soon after the Pilgrims landed in 1620.

It’s true that the Pilgrims landed on what was essentially deserted (not “uninhabited”) land, because they found evidence of corn planting, storage and other cultivation, and recent habitation, but few residents. The Native tribes had already experienced smallpox and their numbers had been reduced by as much as 50–70% (if I recall correctly from my reading). That’s because although the Pilgrims were the first European settlers in that part of the world, they were not the first Europeans to have spent time there. Prior to the Mayflower landing at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, Portuguese and other fishermen had landed there from time to time after becoming shipwrecked, blown off course and separated from their fleets and mother ships, and doing some exploring. (The reason that the Pilgrims could communicate with the Natives was because Squanto had spent time in the company of English sailors and had picked up the language.) Some sailors had overwintered on the coast until they could repair their ships and boats and put to sea in spring again to rejoin the fishing fleets. Various relations and trading interactions with Native peoples were had…

Although smallpox became a form of biological warfare later, the smallpox epidemic that made Cape Cod so empty for the Pilgrims was entirely accidental and normal for the way epidemics spread through unprotected people.

So the Pilgrims actually aided the Natives a bit, too, as well as being helped through their first winter in New England.

As the Native populations rebounded in later years, there were cultural differences with the Pilgrims and Puritans who followed. Those developed into what is now known (and more or less un-known to us moderns) as King Phillip’s War. The end of the war, with the Native populations reduced by more than 90% and all of the adult men sold into slavery in the Caribbean is decidedly brutal, to be sure.

But that’s not a reason to abrogate the spirit of the first Thanksgiving.

I recommend the book Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick if you’d like to know more about this period in American (European-American, anyway) history.

LostInParadise's avatar

Consider the worst case scenario, that the holiday is a pure myth, that even as the Pilgrims shared a meal with Native Americans, they were plotting to take more land from them. The myth behind the holiday is such a positive one, about people of different origins coming together to celebrate the earth’s bounty. One thing that like about the holiday is that the traditional foods are all native to North America – turkey, corn, beets, lima beans. Imagine extending the holiday to a worldwide celebration where people celebrated by eating foods native to the local region.

Jeruba's avatar

I’d say no.

Every race, culture, and society has barbarism in its history. Native American peoples have blood sacrifices among their traditions, and not all their own blood. Not those Native Americans? Well, we’re not all descended from those colonists either. I don’t think it serves any purpose to hammer constantly on some sort of collective national and racial guilt as if only white Americans had ancestors who’d ever been ruthlessly unkind.

It would not make us a better people to deny us the few public traditions that cross ideological boundaries.

I regret that any forbears of mine might have done wrong to anyone. No one is suggesting that we should celebrate slaughter and brutality. Can’t we honor the principle of peace and mutual beneficence even if, or especially if, it was lacking at some time in the past?

The fact that the mythology arose long after the fact is evidence that the connection between that event and the present is a weak one.

We need our mythology, and I see no harm in keeping those traditions that continue to have meaning, bring benefits, and strengthen cultural bonds. Thanksgiving is worth cherishing as a major holiday that does not have explicit (and, these days, potentially or actually divisive) religious content. It simply and inclusively encourages a happy celebration, with an emphasis on family and gratitude.

What I do agree with is that we ought to teach our mythology as mythology and not propound fiction as fact.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

IMO we need to rethink the concept by being thankful everyday, not just zero in on one day basically. Especially those of us living in the US or other industrialized society where you have garbage service, hot & cold running water, reliable electricity, etc. When you think of someone sleeping in a dirt floor shanty with a reeking pile of garbage down the lane attracting rats and other vermin, while you have to slog water at lease 100yr (often more) you can truly be thankful everyday for what you have, even if it is not anything extra or special.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I think that the History of the United States should be re-vamped so as to be more realistic in the intentions of the European settlers vs the Native-Americans. Religious motivations for Thanksgiving have very little to do with the reality that the Native-Americans still live with today. We should, at the very least, be honest about the American government’s manner of dealing with the Native-Americans.

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