It seems Americans can’t have a holiday without a controversy. And, to make matters worse, the two opposing sides of whatever controversy it is don’t ever seem to get it right either.
When it comes to this particular holiday, as one website puts it:
At issue are two competing views of America and American history: a heroic account of the birth of freedom and democracy, and a brutal tale of conflict, racism, and the decimation of native peoples. (Read the full article here.)
In the traditional religious American view, Thanksgiving is seen as an important symbolic moment confirming the blessing of God on the mission of the Puritan pilgrims, and a ceremony indicative of the religious roots of American life–a perspective well capture by Jennie A. Brownscombe in her painting of “The First Thanksgiving.”
Historical innacuracies aside, the painting places the emphasis on the religious nature of the event, at the same time as it de-emphasizes the Indian role in it.
Of course, in today’s multicultural setting, this traditional celebration is under attack. Indian groups insist in observing a “day of mourning” instead of celebrating the arrival of Europeans on these shores.
The real problem with America’s traditional Thanksgiving is not, however, that the Indians don’t get enough credit for giving corn and fowl to a few starving Protestant zealots, or that eventually, as growing numbers of Europeans arrived, they engaged in various means–some odious–of taking over “Indian land.” That’s a complex question that can’t possibly be answered in a one-line rebuttal, but again, it’s just not the issue.
By the time Thanksgiving became a regular, national observance, and President Lincoln issued his “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” it was already obvious that the source of America’s copious abundance–including the disproportionate “bounty” enjoyed by the North over the South–was human productivity (made possible by political freedom), not some divine bestowal.
It’s thanks to America’s productive geniuses that the nation went on to surpass all others, and now enjoys unparalleled wealth, so it’s Vanderbilt, Hill, Rockefeller, Ford and Gates I’ll be thinking of today.
I wish you a happy and just Thanksgiving!