Today my future son-in-law said that he was celebrating Thanksgiving by pretending to be a pilgrim and that everyone else were Native Americans and that when he tells people that he likes them and that he is not going to steal their things, it would be a great big lie.
I understand what he was trying to say. I understand the outrage and the sentiment. As Americans we have a lot to answer for. Our history is a mixture of goodness, triumphs and noble intentions tarnished with cruelty, godliness, big-headedness, and brute force. We shouldn’t forget our selfish acts of brutality. We mustn’t sugar-coat our history. When wars were fought no matter how noble the cause may have been, it still meant that we took people’s lives. We snuffed them out because we felt our opinions were right. Although, we may have won a war or two against injustice, the murder of human beings is an act of injustice that was dealt to the natives of the continent. Should this mar the meaning of Thanksgiving and why we celebrate it? Should Thanksgiving be banned?
When the first settlers came to the land, they came not to conquer the natives. They came because they were being persecuted. They were originally English puritans who loved God and did not want to conform and be a part of the Church of England. Under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, it was illegal not to attend the Church of England and people were fined if they missed a Sunday church service or holy day. When they tried to hold their own services, they were given larger fines and often imprisoned. A couple of the leaders of this movement were executed. Many of these Puritans escaped to the Netherlands but then felt they were losing their cultural identity by living there. They came to America because they chose to be free of religious persecution and free to practice living a life which they felt would better please God and free to honour their cultural traditions.
When these first pilgrims arrived, they suffered many hardships. They suffered from diseases and from attacks from some of the natives. The worst suffering they experienced was after a severe winter which caused intense starvation. It was so intense that they began eating their own horses, then they ate rats and then they were digging up corpses and eating them. There were cries in the night of, “We are starved. We are starved!” However, due to the compassion and generosity of some of the native tribes, they were saved. The natives brought them food (turkey being one of them), they taught them to grow crops on the barren land and how to make fertilizer for these crops using dead fish. As was already the English custom, they celebrated and gave thanks to God and to the natives that helped them.
These first settlers were peaceful but their arrival on these big ships probably caused some fear in some of the natives which may have spurred the attacks on the settlers. We are all part of the human race. If we take action to love others, then love cancels fear. Fear on the other hand, can cause many acts of violence. When fear marries judgement it causes war.
Perhaps, it is better to remember the terrible acts of violence in our history with sadness and remorse but without judgement. Perhaps, we also need to remember the good, loving, empathetic natives who helped the pilgrims and the God-loving pilgrims who welcomed with gratitude the help of the natives who weren’t attacking them. These puritans chose not to fall into the temptation of racial prejudice but to accept the fact that within all human kind there exists both good and evil. This is a lesson that many today still have yet to learn where many suffer at the hands of people who follow a particular faith or are of a particular nationality or race and they react in hatred (aka fear) against all persons of that religious pursuit, nationality or race. Why? Why? We are all people. One race. Humanity is that race.
So this Thanksgiving, I celebrate it with a heart full of gratitude. I do not believe it should be banned because I strongly believe in the transformative power of gratitude. Many do not practice gratitude regularly so perhaps we need a holiday to remind ourselves that we do have a lot to be thankful for.
I am thankful to be free to believe as I chose to believe.
I am thankful to experience being loved by God every day.
I am thankful for the people who are in my life and that these people, my family, my friends keep becoming a larger group continuously giving me the opportunity to love more and more every day.
I am hugely grateful that Love expands and grows. I am amazed and and thankful that I have within me the capacity to love more and more people. I cannot explain this miracle or this wonderment I feel. It is too big for words. I can only say, Thank you God that even in such as me, you create miraculous transformation!