The Weirdness of Thanksgiving

27 Nov

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Thanksgiving. In fact, it is my favorite holiday. It is just weird to me.

Unlike other holidays, it is not a religious festival. It doesn’t have a patriotic meaning like Independence Day, Memorial Day or Veterans Day. It doesn’t represent a new beginning like the first day of January. It’s as if the Powers-that-Be decided to create another holiday and stick it in the middle of the week to create a long weekend.

“Hey everybody, take the day off and eat as much as you can. Oh, don’t worry about buying gifts or fireworks or anything. Spend all of that money on food.”

It’s the holiday that celebrates pigging out. I have no problem with that, but the timing of it all is also weird. Like I said, they put it into the middle of the week.

“There are not many holidays scheduled for Thursday. Let’s go ahead and put it there.”

Also, it is very close – too close – to the end of the school year. We are working our way toward the end, and, BAM, it’s time to take a few days off. That means that we have one week left before exams. I like a break as much as anyone, but it would be nice if it came sooner. Thanksgiving being this late causes issues. Mainly, it’s too late to have the entire week off. Instead, we get a couple of days in October and a couple of days in November. If Thanksgiving was in October, then we could get an entire week like Spring Break. Unfortunately, the Powers-that-Be didn’t take my schedule into consideration.

In a related matter, Thanksgiving is awfully close to Christmas. When the Powers-that-Be created Thanksgiving, they probably didn’t realize that future people would begin Christmas preparations in August. They can’t be blamed for this, but Thanksgiving’s closeness to Christmas has made it a shopping and decorating launching pad. Instead of focusing on giving thanks, people see the day as the beginning of the next holiday. I just read that stores are getting the jump on Black Friday by opening on Black Thursday. Soon, we won’t even be pigging out. We will be making out shopping lists for Christmas.

All of that is weird, but, in my mind, the weirdest part of Thanksgiving is this pilgrim thing. According to various online dictionaries, a pilgrim is someone who travels to a holy place. In the United States, we look back at the Pilgrims who traveled on the Mayflower to Massachusetts. Since when is Massachusetts a holy place?

The people we know as Pilgrims were Puritans who didn’t like how things were working with the Church of England. I guess that thought they were going to a holy place where they wouldn’t have to listen to the archbishop, but I still don’t think pilgrim is the right word to describe them. I would go with colonists.

We have attached these colonists to our celebration of Thanksgiving because they were supposed to have had a Thanksgiving meal of their own. You see, they were struggling to survive in a harsh land, and the situation was looking bleak. Then, Native Americans came to the rescue. They brought food and helped the colonists survive.Pilgrims

That’s another weird part of Thanksgiving. I never understood why the Native Americans in the region did that. Why help out a bunch of trespassers who are dying off? In the tradition that has been passed down through numerous elementary school pageants, the Native Americans were Adam’s and Eve’s in a Garden of Eden who helped God’s people thrive in paradise.

I guess that’s what the colonists believed. I guess that’s what a lot of people still believe. Maybe, that’s why pilgrim was applied to the Puritans. They really did travel to a holy place in Massachusetts.

When I was a kid in those pageants, I never bought that, and it took a long time to get the real story. I will no chronicle the entire saga, but I will tell you a good place to find it. Charles Mann’s 1491: New Revelation of the Americas Before Columbus provides a great description. You will need to buy a copy to get the entire story, but the simple version happened like this.

The Puritans landed in the middle of a conflict between two native groups. One group had been devastated by diseases that had moved up from the Spanish colonies and found themselves in danger of invasion. When they saw the Puritans struggling, the leaders of this group had a decision to make. They could let the newcomers starve, or they could help them and gain allies against the stronger native group. Looking at a quick fix to the problem, the leadership went with the second option.

The Puritans did not travel to a holy place filled with Adam’s and Eve’s. They traveled to a complicated place filled with enemies and allies.

As we gather on Thanksgiving, we need to remember what we are giving thanks for. We are giving thanks for having a holiday in the middle of the week. We are giving thanks that we have a day to Christmas shop. We are giving thanks that some people got mad at their church. We are giving thanks that it got so bad that they decided to leave. We are giving thanks that a Native American leader found his people in such dire circumstances that he took a chance and allied with a bunch of outsiders.

In the long run, that decision didn’t work out very well. Are we supposed to give thanks for that, too?

10 Responses to “The Weirdness of Thanksgiving”

  1. Teepee12 November 27, 2013 at 19:15 #

    As for the Native Americans? Generosity. That was their first mistake.

    • Rick November 27, 2013 at 19:19 #

      True. However, I’m not sure it was generosity. They lived in a complicated world and saw Europeans as another group to deal with. Some groups saw them as potential enemies, and others saw them as potential allies.

  2. Thomas Cochran November 27, 2013 at 19:47 #

    If you read my post on the subject you will find that most of the traditional opinions of the first Thanksgiving are misconceptions. Squanto knew Europeans because he lived in Spain for 5 years after being kidnapped. The Puritans came to America for finical reasons, not religious (they lived in Holland for 12 years after they left England where they were free to practice Puritanism). And, most civilizations celebrate a plentiful fall harvest. The Pilgrims had plenty of food and they shared it with the Natives to reiterate peace between them (which they broke 10 years later).

    • Rick November 27, 2013 at 19:59 #

      I’ll check out what you wrote. I would just like for everyone to get away from the simplified version.

  3. jcalberta November 28, 2013 at 00:55 #

    Well I always figured that Thanksgiving was a heartfelt thank you to the Big Guy for a good harvest (if there was a good harvest). That harvest had to fill the pantrys and larders to feed themselves, their families and their animals through the winter. We take this granted, of course. But they (the pioneers) didn’t.

    I’ll tell you something, I still feel it’s a good thing to say Grace – Thank You. For everything. Every day. It’s not an empty gesture. There is an energy there in that prayer. But maybe that’s just me.

    • Rick November 28, 2013 at 02:58 #

      There’s a lot to big thankful for, but I still think there are a lot of misconceptions about the holiday. It’s good to show thanks. I just wish we would leave the colonists and Native Americans out of it.

  4. satanicpanic November 28, 2013 at 05:29 #

    Haha, I can’t believe it never occurred to me how odd the idea of calling those people pilgrims is. They weren’t making a pilgrimage! 1491 was a great book- it’s hard to think of the first colonists’ experience without remembering how different world history would be if disease hadn’t killed so many people who were already here.
    That being said, Thanksgiving is a great holiday, hope you have a good one!

    • Rick November 28, 2013 at 15:24 #

      People forget that colonies were businesses, and the colonists were business people. That was the whole point. It’s been a great Thanksgiving, so far. I hope yours is great, too.

  5. chandlerswainreviews November 29, 2013 at 08:02 #

    A few thoughts on the subject: the source of Thanksgiving has led to what is certainly the stupidest tourist attraction in the world: Plymouth Rock. And second, that perhaps the Pilgrims were prescient as they may not have reached a holy land but perhaps they sensed that Massachusetts would one day be filled with a population that believes it’s holier than thou.

    • Rick November 29, 2013 at 14:57 #

      That’s no joke about the rock. People focus on the religious aspects of the Puritans but forget that they were hard workers on a business venture. Today, it seems some people would rather reward hardly working than hard work.

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