Most of us were taught a lovely fairy-tale about the first Thanksgiving, about kind Native Americans who help the Pilgrims and together they feasted together to give thanks. It’s a great story and works well in a Charlie Brown special and some form of joint harvest feast certainly happened in 1621. Lately we’ve been given another angle on Thanksgiving which is to focus on the colonial activities of early European settles and to focus on the genocide of Native Americans. While without a doubt, the colonization of America and the treatment and attempted genocide of Native Americans is a sad and horrible story, it really has nothing to do with Thanksgiving except as a counter narrative the first fairy-tale I mentioned.
The fact is, that although some sorts of Thanksgiving celebrations happened in places all over America, it wasn’t until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln created a national Thanksgiving Holiday. It’s kind of incredible how many amazing things in American History are tied to President Lincoln. Lincoln however was only achieving the dream that Sarah Josepha Hale had and had pursued for over 30 years. Mrs. Hale, famously is the author of Mary had a little lamb. Lincoln’s agreement, at the height of the Civil War, was certainly a bit political and the holiday got even more political in 1939 when President Roosevelt moved the holiday to it’s current date to help spur retail sales in an economy that had been ravaged by the Great Depression. The Thanksgiving page for History.com lays out the whole tale in detail.
So there were certainly religious overtones to early Thanksgiving celebrations, there certainly was some sort of initial feast with Native Americans. Presidents from Washington all the way up to Lincoln politicized the holiday to give thanks and gratitude, even the idea for healing after the Revolutionary and during the Civil War. But none of that matters because that is no longer what Thanksgiving represents for people today.
I love Thanksgiving very much for what it means to us today. It’s quite simply a holiday for gathering with family and friends, eating great food and giving thanks. To me, there could be no more perfect holiday. Sure, we all have slightly different traditions around the holiday but the core remains constant. That’s one of the reasons for many people, given the current COVID pandemic, that this year’s Thanksgiving will be so tough. It’s also the power of this holiday that I believe will drive many people to be less than safe this holiday in order to be with family and friends.
So ignore all of the political rhetoric, the drama, be safe and try and forget as best you can about the pandemic for a day. Engage in your traditions the best way you can, cook, eat, celebrate and give thanks and have a Happy Thanksgiving Day my friends. ~ Rev Kane