One person’s clever marketing is another person’s propaganda. Such would be the case for one of America’s coolest national food orgies, Thanksgiving, the others being 4th of July (grill parties) and Halloween (candy). Halloween beats out Christmas and Easter because YOU wear the costume instead of going to a big house to watch other dudes in costumes talking about Jesus. I was raised Catholic, but nobody’s perfect.
The idea of a day based on eating is not strange when you consider that it involves Americans. The US is the land of plenty. So we celebrate by expanding our waistlines even further, even when the rest of the world is starving, but you see that’s the point. We remind ourselves that there are no all-you-can-eat salad bars, or even salad for that matter in many parts of the world. Europeans have the three-bean soup, while we have SIX-bean soup! How can they live? Even a Chinese peasant dreams of the day he/she can come all the way to America and experience the Chinese buffet. Only serving the food mind you, not eating it. We like our Asians behind the counter, not at the table next to us.
The brilliance of Thanksgiving is actually how the feast of the harvest, which is celebrated in every culture and has been since humans have been planting crops, has become apart of the national American identity. You can’t think of one without the other. That’s where the clever marketing/propaganda comes in. Thanksgiving wasn’t a major holiday and was celebrated off and on since the first one in 1621. It didn’t become a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln made it one in 1863 in order to create some sense of national unity and identity in the middle of our civil war.
Our story begins in a place that was rife with war, turmoil, and conflict. You’re thinking Congo. Nope. Ye olde England. You had these religious underdogs called the Puritans who were being persecuted for their beliefs. Oh btw one of them, Oliver Cromwell, also overthrew the government in the English Civil War , beheaded the king, ravaged Ireland, and tried to make everyone moral. So the Puritans themselves were also considered revolutionaries and not very liked. Don’t hear that much in the thanksgiving history. Among the Puritans were the Separatists who wanted to totally leave the Church of England, so they went to Holland first. But then they were afraid their children would pick up ugly Dutch habits like smokin’ pot , saying g with that awful throat-clenching sound, eating fries with mayo, and socialized medicine. So they chose to go to America aboard a ship called the Mayflower. That’s when they were given the name “Pilgrims.”Once again we can see marketing/propaganda at play here.
My dictionary says that a pilgrim is someone who travels on a long journey to a spiritual place. So going to Jerusalem makes you a pilgrim. Going to Mecca makes you a pilgrim. Going to America does NOT make you a pilgrim. Have you been to Mississippi? There’s nothing holy about it. This is just an attempt to make the US into some God-ordained place. It’s also important to point out that out of the 100 or so colonists on the ship, the Pilgrims made up only a third. The rest were people looking to get rich in the New World. So let’s just drop the “Pilgrims” label and call them what they were, White People Who Got Lost. I say this because first they were suppose to go to Virginia but ended up at Cape Cod, then wandered about until they landed in Plymouth. Of course, being middle class people and not farmers, they hadn’t planned ahead enough and came in winter. So half of them died from disease and starvation while living on the boat. Some holy trip, huh?
Spring eventually came and the surviving colonists, weakened and starving, moved ashore to be greeted by a couple of natives who surprisingly spoke English. And what were those first words? Probably something like “ Long way from home aren’t you, boys? Oh you silly white people, you can’t just come here and not know any farming. Ha!” Among the natives was Squanto, who had experience with silly white people being a former slave to them but was pretty cool. He taught the Pilgri..urh White People Who Got Lost what to plant, pick, and all the prime spots to find food. Basically he saved their asses. And he was a heathen. Go figure. Later after the first harvest in autumn, the W.P.W.G.L would have what would become the first of many feasts celebrated by Americans and still even by many Native Americans.
This might be a surprise considering what happened to the natives after. Thanksgiving is kind of like a date rapist saying to his victim, “well let’s forget about the end of the evening and focus on the nice dinner and conversation.”For me and for natives I’ve spoken to, it’s still a harvest celebration and beyond that a chance to appreciate two of the most important things you can have: food and friends. After a brutal voyage and even more brutal winter, the early colonists had a lot to be thankful for. So in November 1621 they decided to express that thanks to their native friends over what was probably the first American buffet on a day full with joy and feelings of racial harmony. Then somebody sneezed. Then the natives started coming down with spooky European diseases and dying off. So then the W.P.W.G.L thought “Shit! Now who’s gonna teach us farming techniques and do some of the work for us?” That’s when the ingenious invention of African slavery came about, but that children is another story.