Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I'm still feeling queasy after Thanksgiving



I kept rather a low profile during Thanksgiving. To be honest I’ve never really seen the point of this schmaltzfest, unless you happen to be a turkey farmer in the US who gets to hit pay dirt twice in the space of a month. And what kind of an American expression is pay dirt, anyhow? What does it mean? You get paid so you have to go out and do something really dirty. Which may ensure you don’t get paid again for a while. Apparently it refers to gravel with a high concentration of gold in it; not like any gravel you get round these parts.



In short I didn’t post anything on Facebook saying 'I’m so Thankful.' That’s partly because I’m a curmudgeon, although I am thankful I don’t live in Syria or Somalia, even though I have this recurring dream that I have been transported to a war zone. I'm not even sure if the feeling of peace and thankfulness was enduring because sometime overnight on Thursday it was replaced by the urge to get a cheap flatscreen TV or pair of designer sneakers and not care if it involved trampling a few elderly women half to death to get them the next morning.

But really I don’t like Thanksgiving (apart from the day off work, of course) because it’s one of those glib and smug rewritings of history for the benefit of people of European descent so that we can pat ourselves on the back about how great America is as our stomachs grumble for the rest of the afternoon parked in front of Real Housewives of Atlanta or New York or Redneckysville, Alabama.

So what are the origins of Thanksgiving? According to the Northwest Herald which is, I presume a newspaper in a cold place, it’s….

“The proclaiming of a day of thanksgiving traditionally dates from the autumn of 1621, when Plymouth Colony Gov. William Bradford invited the local Wampanoag Indians to join the Pilgrims in a three-day celebration of feasting and recreation. The Pilgrims were especially giving thanks for surviving the harsh winter of 1620-1621, during which half of the 102 Mayflower passengers had died, and for the bountiful harvest, which hopefully would help them to meet the challenge of the upcoming winter.”

But there’s also some kind of school lesson plan that does the rounds about how the Indians gave the Pilgrims their corn, that ensured survival, taught them to hunt and they all lived happily ever after. This is surely the tale that prompted my daughter to ask: “If the Indians didn’t have microwaves how did they teach the Pilgrims how to make popcorn?”

This is from the lesson plan.

“Tell first winter the Pilgrims spent in their new home was very cold. Food was in short supply. Some days they had only enough food for each new person to have five kernels of corn for the day. Finally spring came. They planted food and it grew. All the pilgrims did not die. From then on, when a time of Thanksgiving came around, the Pilgrims put five kernels of corn on each plate to remind themselves of their blessings. Let us also remember: (Written on the poster paper).”

Well that’s as clear as mud then. What is clear is that a few years later the Indians weren’t happy bunnies with a valid cause as the settlers took their land and drove them out. Philip, or Metacom, the second son of old Massasoit, the longtime friend of the English, became the head of the Wampanoags in 1662.

King Philip’s War between the Indians and the settlers that was waged from 1675 to 1678 was a bloody affair and the single greatest calamity to occur in seventeenth-century Puritan New England. Nearly half of the region's towns were destroyed, its economy was all but ruined, and much of its population was killed, including one-tenth of all men available for military service. Proportionately this was one of the bloodiest and costliest wars in the history of North America.

For the next 200 years or so the protracted and intermittent genocide of the Indian people continued, as they were pushed west to the badlands of Oklahoma until somebody decided they wanted those lands too, perhaps after hitting pay dirt in those hills.

This is one reason why Thanksgiving leaves a bad taste for me. The other is the way we celebrate the Pilgrims as Godly and goodly when they were religious extremists who used to kill women who acted in a peculiar way as witches. These folks were more extreme than the tea party. In modern America they would probably be going around cutting beards off Amish people (predominantly men folk).

America makes such a big deal about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower Compact, that’s made out like a precursor to the Constitution, that they tend to forget the first successful English speaking colony was in Virginia not New England.

There’s also a certain irony in seeing descendants of these white settlers who drove out the native people arguing for the kids of Mexican immigrants who sneaked into the country, to be sent back south as punishment for their parents’ actions. Just saying.

15 comments:

  1. I'm surprised you haven't been lynched, David.

    Still, as a Brit why would Thanksgiving mean anything to you? It certainly means nothing to me, but it doesn't sound as bad when you say it from over here...

    From what you wrote, it sounds like Thanksgiving was the precursor to some pretty genocidal behaviour. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

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  2. I like this post so much I'm going to post it on facebook, if you don't mind.

    I think the holiday has morphed into a generic feasting day where we're just supposed to be grateful for what we have in general. But you're right, the origins are a lot sinister than they teach in school...

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  3. But what about the pumpkin pie? It can't be all bad when you get pumpkin pie, right? :-D

    So did you get your flatscreen TV?

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  4. It's amazing how history can be rewritten and a day comes to mean something completely different in the hearts and minds of people. In Sourh Africa, we used to celebrate the Day of the Vow on Dec 16 where settlers promised to remember the day forever if God let them beat the Zulus. Now we celebrate it as the Day of Reconciliation. A day to remember that we will never again celebrate the slaughter of innocents.

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  5. My friend Clara is half American and she thinks is good to have a day everybody can celebrate, no matter the religion. But I think she just likes it because by celebrating it she feels closer to her mother's country. So, obviously I'm not going to point out to her neither that Christmas is celebrated by pretty much everybody nowadays, nor that Thanksgiving has a bloody awful timing, nor the real historical circumstances of its origin. After all, history is easy to find out if you want to. So, I think is at least pretty good for American people who don't live there. I wish there were a Spanish equivalent.

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  6. Actually, you hit quite a few nails on the head. I sometimes wonder about the brouhaha, but go ahead with the prep and, at day's end, am glad I did. For me, Thanksgiving anchors the year and gives pause to remember that what worried me in June no longer worries.

    In a way I can't explain, Thanksgiving also touches our link to Mother England and soothes, as only England can, and is very, very nice.

    I put a lot of research into a post last year about Thanksgiving and learned that the first Thanksgiving actually began when a Brit returned to England after a successful trip in the Canadian wilds. There was a discrepancy about whether he was a Canadian or a Brit, so I actually flipped a coin and posted he was a Canadian but got corrected by some British followers that he was a Brit. Unlike my hub, I'm bad on names, so will have to return to my research. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October. I think what it all comes down to is an end-of-year celebration that gained steam after the Great Depression in the 1930s. Because of refrigeration issues, turkey was a Major Big Deal that's now symbolic of much.

    The Pilgrims stole considerable food from the Indians before they (the Pilgrims) realized, duh, Thou Shalt Not Steal. And, er, they really liked beer. And, er, well - er, they had significant problems. Having said that, I have a friend who bragged she used the same type wine the Pilgrims used to prepare a certain food item. I thought she was joking - but, shut my mouth, she wasn't. Here's to Merlot, I suppose.

    I think 'pay dirt' comes from the Depression Era and evolved when soil erosion came under some control and crops began to pay.

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  7. Hi David, catching up on posts when I can and I'm so pleased to have read this one as it is such a fascinating read. As a previous commenter said it is pleasing that you haven't been lynched for expressing your views! While I think of it I thought pay dirt referred to anything that is found to be profitable to be mined though I'm not sure when it dates back to.

    Learning about the nineteenth century trail of tears always left a bad taste in my mouth almost every country has horrific parts of its history it suppresses and prefers to forget.

    Take care and looking forward to your take on Christmas.

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  8. Thanks for stopping by, David. Hey, if free time shakes loose, read "1491" - it has amazing info about what was going on along the East Coast before Columbus hit the bigs.

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  9. I think I read somewhere that there's a tribe of Native Americans in Virginia or the Carolinas perhaps that have blue eyes from time to time and that there is evidence that a Welsh group landed there certainly before the whole Mayflower extravaganza and possibly before Colombus. I wonder how the Welsh would celebrate Thanksgiving. If this sotry is true, then it sounds like they were accepted by the Native Americans fairly warmly!

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  10. See, this is exactly why I'm happy I'm second generation American. (And from Canada--well, north of Paris way back--to boot!).
    Love your humor, David. ;)

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  11. that was crazy Sarah - no lynching yet. Thanks for the Facebook posting Jennifer. eeek no pumpkin pie Daisy - but I got me a flatscreen in the riots in Britain in Aug.

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  12. Right Emm - it tends to end up really different - like Christmas. Oh for real Stara? - nothing similar in Spain. Thanks fr the long post Kittie - I'll have to check you out last year. Thanx for including me in your catch up Abi. The Trail of Tears is a pretty sad episode. I should Kittie - and I do have a cpopy of Mayflower.

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  13. I have heard this too Michelle - I think the theory is they are elated to Roanoke Island's lost colonists. Thax Jayne - are you related to French Canadians?

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  14. All of this may be true AND a valid point but where else can you get an entire meal made of ONLY CARBS? I literally had a stuffing sandwich for a snack after Thanksgiving dinner. (:

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