It’s approaching that time of year again, where all of America sits down together and gives thanks. We give thanks to one another, our friends, our family and to the white men that exploited the Native Americans to build this country. It’s that time of year where we adopt a holiday founded on candy-coated history and lies, force-fed down our throats since we could first make hand turkeys.
I’m well aware that some people think that Thanksgiving is all-American and revolves around giving thanks to for what we have. I don’t necessarily disagree with that. After all, what’s more American than going into another country and forcefully indenturing the native peoples while sneezing your smallpox onto them? And as far as giving thanks, only in America would we celebrate how thankful we are of the things we own by immediately having the largest shopping day of the year afterwards. While some people claim that Thanksgiving is about nothing more than being thankful for what you have and who you have it with, I find it hard to argue with the relatively recent trends in how we celebrate the day.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no balloon hater, but what does a parade full of major corporations have to do with me being thankful? I have McDonalds telling me I won’t be happy unless I eat their food. I have Macy’s telling me I’ll be ugly if I don’t wear their clothes. I have the Aflac duck telling me I’ll regret my financial decisions when I get into a near-fatal automobile accident. At what point during the holidays am I supposed to be thankful?
There are mixed messages being delivered by claiming that one should minimize their dependence on external goods for happiness, in contrast to the highly capitalistic nature of the holiday. We, as Americans, are expected to fulfill the roles of both the humble, content citizen and the consumer, who is never satisfied with what he or she owns. How those two dichotomous roles were created is beyond me, but I think there’s something that is perhaps more important to the holiday as we know it. Beyond what one should be thankful for, it’s vital to consider why we’re supposed to be thankful in the first place.
The historical account of the first Thanksgiving has been the victim of boosterism for over a century. There are, at least, a half-dozen different stories of the first turkey-eating holiday, and almost none of them involve the warm and fuzzy version that you learn as a child. Yes, the version of pilgrims and Indians eating together — that never happened. At best, a few pilgrims decided to adopt the local Indian’s custom of celebrating the fall harvest and ate some food, making sure not to invite the dangerous Indians over for dinner.
More than likely, what we know as Thanksgiving is a combination of three different stories. The first takes place in 1637, and involves Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Governor demanded that the settlers “give thanks” to the returning explorers. What were the explorers doing? They were given the task of massacring 700 Pequot Indians, of course. Another story involves early Calvinists’ days of praise that were specifically set aside for thanking God for the recent “gifts.” What were these gifts? 96 percent of the local Indian population, mostly the Wampanoags and Patuxet tribes, dying off from the diseases the settlers carried. Besides the Indian Massacre of 1622 causing parts of the Virginian Colonies to “give thanks,” perhaps the main force behind modern Thanksgiving was none other than Abraham Lincoln.
During the Civil War, Lincoln had stories written about Thanksgiving (making sure to give the saccharinated version we hear now), as well as making an official declaration of the holiday. Essentially, Thanksgiving was used as a morale booster for a bunch of young boys that missed their families. That’s it. That’s what the holiday amounts to.
While Thanksgiving seems like an excellent opportunity to spend time with loved ones and give thanks for the good things in life, it’s important to understand what the holiday is at its core: a day to glorify oppression, a warped sense of Christian manifest destiny and, more recently, consumer culture. But, after all, isn’t that the American Dream?
Justin Huft is a fourth year psychology and social behavior and social ecology double major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.