What Thanksgiving Isn't
In the wake of a pretty good holiday
The folks who run the shop where I work mean well.
But I felt some disappointment when I read this year’s Thanksgiving email. Because while I give thanks, daily, and once a year en masse, I have co-workers who use the day to mourn.
Yet the email speaks as if we all celebrate. Just one tweak would dial back the marginalization: “For those of us who celebrate Thanksgiving…”
That’s one kind of disappointment.
The other comes from the plentiful attacks on the holiday. I get it: The Pilgrims, in the fine tradition of zealous religious liberty, party with their indigenous neighbors, who later get slaughtered and pushed off their land.
Who wouldn’t be pissed?
Except that’s the grade school story, which is, on one hand, remarkably accurate — people were killed, lands taken. On the other, that story has nothing to do with the national holiday called Thanksgiving.
What the Historian Says
Designating days to give thanks was apparently a fairly common practice in times past. Such days were called for long before and way after the Pilgrims served their feast. The Thanksgiving we celebrate, the one that became a national holiday, is a noble bit of history.
Here’s my quick take on what happened, per what I learned some time ago from Heather Cox Richardson, Professor of History at Boston College:
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln called for a national day of thanks on the last Thursday in November to celebrate a couple of big truths:
The North had turned the tide in the American Civil War, and it became clear the Union would hold — and the enslaved would be freed
Lincoln acknowledged, too, the role played by immigrants, who made the coming victory possible by filling the shoes of the many fallen soldiers of the North
Immigrants help save the Union — and liberate an enslaved people.
That’s what I give thanks for.
P.S. For a more complete take, please see Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American.
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