What do we know about Thanksgiving?

For Your Consideration

Alan CheahNovember 23, 2011 

If you are like me and most average Americans, Thanksgiving means football, turkey, pumpkin pie, family gatherings and maybe acknowledgment of whatever you are thankful for. From childhood we were taught that intrepid Pilgrims fled England's religious oppression to the new world on the shores of Massachusetts. There they were greeted by the friendly Wampanoag Indians who helped the Pilgrims survive their first harsh winter.

The following year, after a successful harvest, the Indians and Pilgrims together celebrated with a feast. Walt Disney couldn't have written a better script. No doubt on this Thanksgiving, we will read many similar accounts in more glorious and embellished fashion.

To be sure aspects of that portrayal was true but our history lessons omit other accounts about the origins of Thanksgiving. "Thanksgiving Day" was first 'officially' proclaimed in 1637 by Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop. Winthrop proclaimed Thanksgiving Day to commemorate the victory in the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children who were celebrating their annual Green Corn Dance.

Since 1970 the indigenous people of North America marked this day a Day of Mourning in a ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.

No doubt this account will be met with much skepticism given that our history books distinguish all our actions and motives as heroic, valorous, unquestionably ethical, righteous and honorable. For example, the U.S expansion across America is euphemistically referred to in our historical accounts as purchases and cessions as though the Louisiana Purchase with the French and the Florida purchase with the Spanish and the Mexican Cession were simply real estate transactions or benevolent gifts of land as their titles suggest.

In fact, these real estate transfers were preceded by bloody wars. Our acquisition of half of Mexico, now called California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and parts of Colorado and New Mexico, was based on our declaration of Manifest Destiny in which we said God ordained our right to take these lands by force.

Manifest Destiny was not only used to wage the Mexican-American war for Mexico's land but also to occupy and settle Native American land, eventually pushing them out into reservations and decimating their population and culture.

When we celebrate holidays such as Thanksgiving we should remember the goodness of our ancestors but perhaps our remembrance should also include the dark side of our history. Acknowledging our transgressions alongside our benevolence would be a display of real character and true American exceptionalism.

We will be a better people for it.

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