November 26, 2006

The two Thanksgivings

Giving Thanks to America's IndiansThe dominant Thanksgiving is ... a prolonged ritual enactment that works to help reassure Americans that our country was founded on good will and cooperation between two equal peoples. It's a fetishized (false) harmony that suppresses much of the essential truths about Indians and about capitalist culture, in general. In this version the ritual also works as a relief valve, a celebration of the ideal of family togetherness in a world of job insecurity, suffering and broken families.

In Native American culture, every day is Thanksgiving and in fact, harvest celebrations (i.e. thanksgivings) go back thousands of years. But with European colonization many of them, like the Creek's Green Corn Festival were forced to go underground. This is all part of the hidden history of thanksgiving.

1 comment:

Tabetha said...

Oh my goodness, don't get me started on the Thanksgiving myth we teach our children! It makes me absolutely crazy...
1) Thanksgiving days were originally called by governors of New England colonies-- as a general rule they followed times of stress, and were meant to get people to calm down and think of things to be thankful for instead of focusing on their differences-- Native Americans weren't included, nor were pilgrims or anything else. These thanksgivings were completely unrelated to anything Pilgrim-y (or is it pilgrim-ish)?

2) George Washington called the first "national" Thanksgiving after the army survived Valley Forge (and those that survived had quite a bit to be thankful for)

3)1841, an American historian discovers the journal of one of the first Mayflower to Plymouth colonists. In it, he describes a Native American tradition of feasting for days on end following a good harvest or hunt (why wouldn't they? Fresh corn is better than dried, fresh steak better than slim jims..so they fattened up on the fresh). He went on to say that following the first successful harvest in late summer the settlers mimicked this tradition, and people roamed around eating for 3 days-- including Native Americans that were allowed to indulge as they helped the harvest. Note- no tables, no graces said, just a bunch of people chowing down before everything had to get dried to feed them in the winter.

4) At the time of its publication, again in 1841, it was essentially ignored. Why? Because America was at the height of Indian Removal policies, and in the midst of Indian Wars that had gone on for the better part of a century (the first named Indian battle being the Miami in 1775). NO ONE wanted to portray European settlers getting along with Native Americans. Lincoln makes Thanksgiving an official national holiday in 1863-- in the midst of the Civil War. Its purpose is at Thanksgiving's purpose always was, to calm tempers and hopefully get folks to see the good things in life, and try and find inspiration in the war being waged in the south. I believe he sets it as the third Tuesday in November, but I'd have to look it up to be certain on this point. At any rate, there is nary a Native American or pilgrim-ish person to be seen.

5) In the late 1800s, early 1900s, after the Natives had been "subdued", there is another massive wave of immigrants arriving from Europe. They need to be taught English, American history and American customs. In an effort to connect all these diverse elements, teachers in immigrant schools began combining several holidays with history. They reach back to the 1841 history, and connect the landing of the Pilgrims with the national day of Thanksgiving. Not only did it make Thanksgiving easy to understand, it also gives these new immigrants the impression that early "Americans" were friendly and welcoming, just like the US was attempting to paint itself at the time (despite raging protests that these turn-of-the-century immigrants were robbing jobs from "real Americans"-- but thats another story all together...)

6) Elementary school teachers soon followed suit-- it is easier to teach children that Thanksgiving has something to do with good Christian folks and the wearing of construction paper feathers than explain that its just a day to be thankful in general :)

7) Finally, FDR moved Thanksgiving to its current date in 1939. There is some talk that he did so to benefit the country economically, as it prolonged Christmas shopping or something of that ilk...I'm not sure on that one, but historians that focus on the era tell me its true :)

...I told you not to get me started LOL