Must We Even Take Sides at Thanksgiving?

The_First_Thanksgiving_cph.3g04961You would think that Thanksgiving is not a holiday for controversy. The occasion is intended to be warm, its history strong with themes of diversity and acceptance, religious freedom and pluralism, and the sharing of resources in response to need.

But we can argue nevertheless, and I am not referring to the way your Uncle Harry behaved last year.

To view the argument, look up any online article about a traditional aspect of the holiday, like “Mayflower descendants,” and then read the comment blog at the end. Witness there a social-political taking of sides more serious than whether the cranberry sauce at the first Thanksgiving had those ripple marks from the can.

It’s a thing, and you have to be on the right side of it. Didn’t you know that the Pilgrims were actually imperialists and the advance guard of the coming rape of the American landscape? Inside this opinion slung-with-swagger is the implication that with this new information your world is about to crumble. Worse yet, you probably perpetuate this piggish myth ever since you used crayon to color Squanto’s headdress.

This cracks me up. Mainly because it’s hilarious how the correctors of history take a kind of glee in destroying our mythologies. Of course we have myths. Get over it—your sentence beginning with “but did you know” delivers content neither new nor helpful. And any “yeah but” argument from the other side about inter-tribe Native American violence is equally unhelpful. It keeps the argument in the wrong place and just makes me tryptophan-tired.

These are discussions for another time. Just like Uncle Harry’s regrettable remarks, there’s a valid point to be made here, just not at the table. I like the truth too, and there is something good we can do with it.

And what is the truth? The first Thanksgiving came at a time of tremendous hardship for the Plymouth settlers. The local Wampanoag peoples helped the settlers with cultivation practices. A single letter records a feast with no mention of an invitation to the Wampanoag, but in response to the noise of musket practice, a group of them appeared at the meal and the Pilgrims offered them food and they ate with them.

That is all, and that is enough. I do not need the mythologies or revisionist histories from either camp in a debate. Here in bare and simple form is the picture of divergent lifestyles, faiths, races and cultures sitting at table. Some pictures do better without a caption.

Keep your narratives about the sins of the white man or the native. Give thanks for your meal, and invite someone over who you might otherwise have reason not to like. And make that your holiday narrative instead.