For many progressives, the spirit of giving thanks has been replaced by endless self-flagellation for our perceived past and future sins. You will mourn events that happened hundreds of years ago and fear events that might happen a hundred years from now if you don’t confess your own sins and adopt their socialist solutions.
For most people, Thanksgiving is a chance to gather with family and close friends over a special meal and celebrate the good things we have in life, the relationships, people, and other blessings we are truly thankful for. Unlike other major holidays such as Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving has no specific religious denomination. Instead, it’s a North American tradition shared by our friends in Canada, though they celebrate about a month earlier than the United States. All denominations and ethnicities can freely partake in this tradition, one that dates all the way back to 1621, making 2021 the 400th anniversary of when pilgrim settlers to the Americas feasted with Native American Indians for three days. This first feast, however, could easily have turned into a massacre if events were slightly different. Four pilgrims were sent hunting in the woods, and the Indians in the area, a group known as the Wampanoag, heard the English gunshots. The Indian leader, Massosoit, sent 90 of his men to the pilgrim encampment fearing war, but when they realized the hunting was in preparation for a celebration, Massosoit sent out hunters of his own to join the feast and a new tradition, one not shared with the Old World, was born.
Thanksgiving continued as an informal tradition for close to 250 years until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a national holiday in 1863. Even in the middle of the Civil War, this greatest of American presidents wrote, “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.” President Lincoln continued, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Few leaders shared Mr. Lincoln’s skillful insight into the human condition and gift of prose. The country was in the throes of one of the most violent conflicts mankind had ever seen. By 1863, hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead on both sides, and there was no end in sight to what he described as God’s “anger for our sins.” Foreign powers including England and France were starting to intercede, and the future of the entire American experiment was at stake. Less than two months later, President Lincoln would deliver the immortal Gettysburg Address, when he famously declared that “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” He continued “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Even in the midst of unseen tumult, death, and destruction, President Lincoln recognized the virtues of both mercy and freedom. He would soon help realize the dream of our founding documents and issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
A century and a half later, America is a world of plenty and freedom the likes of which mankind has never seen. The average person, black or white, Asian or Hispanic, lives a life of safety and security that Lincoln or any of his contemporaries could scarce imagine. Once upon a time, we celebrated having enough to eat simply to survive, no mean feat in the early days of America. While the pilgrims were celebrating their first Thanksgiving in the Northeast, further down the Atlantic Coast the English settlers at Jamestown on the Chesapeake Bay were not nearly so lucky. Historians estimated that about 80% of the 7,000 settlers who arrived after 1607 perished from starvation, malaria, and what can be seen as the first Indian war.
Atrocities in that war abounded on both sides after a makeshift treaty between John Smith and the Indian leader, Powhatan brokedown. The Indians slaughtered starving men and women in the forest, despoiling the dead bodies by stuffing their mouths with corn. They lured other settlers to their capital at Werowocomoco with promises of food, and killed the 33 foolish enough to arrive. George Percy, one of the leaders at Jamestown, wrote that they reserved a special torture for the leader of the party, “By women his flesh was scraped from his bones with mussel shells, and, before his face thrown into the fire.” Over the next five years, historians estimate that the Indians killed one out of four settlers. Powhatan also forbade his people from trading with the settlers for food, starving hundreds more until only about 60 survived the entire winter. That summer another 250 arrived from England with supplies, and yet up to 150 of them still perished.
Tensions with the Indians also persisted for years, culminating in a sneak attack on March 22, 1622. By that point, many Indians had come to work with the settlers and had established relationships, often eating and drinking at the same table. That morning, however, they came to kill. After being invited into the settlers’ homes, they attacked without warning, using anything they could find, pots, knives, and other implements, slaughtering some 325 people in cold blood and burning the town. Nor were starvation and Indian attacks the only challenge. Malaria thrived in the marshy environment, wracking huge swaths of the populace with crippling fevers that some suffered for years even if they survived. The disease was so commonplace the settlers referred to it as a “seasoning” required to survive in the New World. The plague of malaria persisted for hundreds of years. Jamestown minister Hugh Jones described Virginia to native Brits in a pamphlet in 1724, incorrectly believing the disease was caused by the climate. He noted that travelers to Jamestown suffer from “a severe Fit of which (called a Seasoning) most expect, sometime after their Arrival in that Climate.”
Ultimately, as many as a third succumbed to the disease. Amidst all this suffering, however, the residents of Jamestown still found time to give thanks. On December 14, 1619, two years before the “official” first Thanksgiving, John Woodlief landed upstream from Jamestown to start a new plantation, Berkeley Hundred, with 35 men. Mr. Woodlief had been instructed by his financiers to celebrate their arrival “as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty god,” and to continue the celebration every December after. A year later, 33 of those men were dead, but the tradition persisted through the ages.
Today, however, in an era where we often struggle with too much instead of too little, that tradition now finds itself under attack from progressives, as they increasingly seek to upend and any all traditions, turning every holiday into only an opportunity to self-flagellate yourself over the perceived sins of the past and the future. District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor, Lewis Ferebee, chose to share his gratitude, literally in a memo entitled “Sharing My Gratitude,” by encouraging parents to limit their travel, keep the community safe, and recognize the history of the holiday. By that, he means, “Thanksgiving is a day that can be difficult for many to celebrate as we reflect on the history of the holiday and the horrors inflicted on our indigenous populations.”
The public school district’s “equity team” put together a series of helpful tips to help families with “decolonizing their Thanksgiving.” To do so, people are encouraged to start their celebrations with a “land acknowledgement,” and a link to a helpful guide is provided. The guide states that “colonialism is a current ongoing process.” Therefore, everyone needs “mindfulness of our present participation” and parents should “use terms like genocide, ethnic cleansing, stolen land, and forced removal” to explain the land acknowledgement to their children. The goal is to “share in Indigenous peoples’ discomfort,” but not to worry, we “shouldn’t be grim” even as Mr. Ferebee links to other resources that claim childhood memories of Thanksgiving help internalize “oppression” and Thanksgiving itself is a day of “mourning.” MSNBC’s Gyasi Ross was more succinct when he said “Instead of bringing stuffing and biscuits, those settlers brought genocide and violence. That genocide and violence is still on the menu.”
The esteemed Washington Post took a different tact, focusing on how climate change is going to change the Thanksgiving menu at some indefinite point in the future. If you enjoy your turkey with the trimmings, you better do so now because mankind is destroying the planet. They ponder “What’s on the Thanksgiving table in a hotter, drier world?” They believe future holidays will be celebrated with wild boar, kelp salad, and crickets in your pie crust instead of turkey, taking a page from Bill Gates who believes we need to stop eating meat. In fact, “These are just a few of the things that may end up on the Thanksgiving menus” thanks to climate change. In their warped minds, you see “It’s a complicated dynamic. To mitigate the effects of global warming, we need to change agricultural practices.” In other words, Thanksgiving, and your celebration of it in a warm house, perhaps driving a hundred or miles in an SUV or flying on a plane to get there, settling in with family who might have done the same, and ultimately eating a huge, traditional feast is killing the planet. Their solution is to eat crickets, apparently, and so a four hundred year old tradition ends by munching on insects and mourning the past, crying over a genocide you didn’t commit. Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer people listen to progressives anymore?
One final note: I do not describe the incredible hardships early settlers faced to absolve them of any atrocities committed, merely to point out that life itself was atrocious at the time, atrocities in both war and peace were commonplace around the entire world, committed freely and equally by everyone, and yet they still found moments to celebrate. Many progressives would have you believe Europeans waltzed through America on some kind of sick lark, almost for the fun of it, but there were four hundred years of tortured history prior to the founding of the country. There were 150 years of history between the English arriving and the founding of the country. This history matters, and it’s far more complex than it is often told.