As a new immigrant, I was taught the historically inaccurate revisionist fairytale about Thanksgiving. I was told that the pilgrims included “Indians” in their thanks to God for a good harvest in the new land. As I got older, I became uncomfortable with the revisionist fairytale, and for many years, as a young adult, I did not celebrate Thanksgiving. It did not become a part of my life again until I married a person to whom it was an important holiday. I appreciated that Maryan celebrated Thanksgiving as a time to celebrate the family and not a fairy tale.
Here is the real history. In 1620, the Mayflower got lost on their journey and landed much further north than they had planned. They eventually worked their way southward to the Hudson River Bay but did not arrive at their destination until December. Pilgrims had to spend the winter on the Mayflower out at sea, and more than half of them died. When they finally got off their boat in March of 1621, the native people welcomed them and brought them food. Squanto, a victim of European violence - he was kidnapped and sold into slavery by an English sea captain but eventually escaped and returned home – taught the pilgrims how to farm and survive in the new land. He even helped the new arrivals forge an alliance with the Wampanoag people, so the new arrivals were given land and were allowed to stay.
When the pilgrims had their first harvest and realized that they would survive in the new land, they held a feast to thank and honor the native peoples who kept them alive. Their thanks offering was not to God but to the natives who were generous to them – the Wampanoag people who shared their land with them. The cultural ethos of the people, those who lived in what we now call the North American continent, was welcoming strangers and sharing the blessings of God. Their ethics of life was honoring those you live with and protecting the land that gave them life.
The theology of dominion over the land of the European Christian Church eventually led to abuse of the land and led to failed crops. The same things we are experiencing today. The vulnerable and poor experienced starvation and were forced to migrate in search of more fertile land. In contrast, the natives in the New Land lived with a theology of living in harmony with the land, and they did not experience the cycle of crop failures and diseases. The stable and sustainable life of the new land was attractive to the poor and wretched of Europe. For European Christians, the New Land was the New Promised Land of Milk and Honey.
The moral failure of the pilgrims was that they believed that they were the new Israelites. Just like the biblical stories of Israelites going into the Promised Land and committing genocide of the Canaanites to kill every man, woman, and child to steal their land, they believed they were called by God to commit the same crime of genocide, murder, and theft. They were misled by the religious leaders who called for a “new crusade” against the pagans of the New Land and made a “pagan land” into a “Christian nation.” They did this with a misunderstanding that somehow God would be pleased with them. They killed millions of natives who were gracious and welcomed them with open arms to share the bounty of the Eden with the aliens among them. Then they were all killed for their hospitality. How sad!
The pain and suffering of millions of people for centuries were founded on the idea that God wanted to make the New Land into a new Israel for the second-class Europeans who were not good enough to stay in Europe. We have to remember that the wealthy Europeans and capable Europeans did not migrate. The pilgrims were the poor and huddled masses who were rejected by the “better white Europe.” The words on the Statue of Liberty, “… your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore….the homeless, tempest-tossed…” describes the European migrants of the past. It described the ancestors of the western Europeans whom we call “white,” not the new “non-whites” who are coming today.
So rather than being misled by revisionist history, let us redeem Thanksgiving by celebrating the loved ones in our lives who give us love, grace, and hope. Let us remember people who pick us up when things get difficult and encourage us when we are down. Let us remember those who love us even when we act unlovable. Let us celebrate the power of the love of those who choose to love us even though they know all our faults and shortcomings.
Thanksgiving is a time to thank those who love us for loving us. Let us thank them for their love.