Being friends with a lot of politically conscious people means Columbus Day and Thanksgiving are both days where I am bombarded with reminders of the colonial traditions which gave birth to these holy days. If you didn’t know the word holiday comes from the old English word for a holy day; these two holidays also have a pronounced Christian lineage. While I have long know that Christopher Columbus was a Christian explorer who destroyed native civilizations, I wasn’t aware of Thanksgivings strong religious roots until this year. Honest Abe Lincoln started it all when he proclaimed that the last Thursday of November shall be, “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” But
Thanksgiving is a celebration of the victory of slave-trader smallpox over the indigenous people’s of America. The smallpox and slave traders preceded the Mayflower by nearly a century, wiping out up to 90% of native populations and leaving plenty of already-made cities with grain-houses full, and no signs of human life. Plymouth colony was founded in a native ghost town. The entire process, plague and all, was viewed as God’s will assisting the pilgrims.
You remember Squanto, the Indian who helped the pilgrims weather that first winter and thus gave birth to the entire Thanksgiving story? Yea, that was HIS village they were in. He had been abducted by slavers decades before, was taught English, shipbuilding, navigation, and all manner of things while crossing the Atlantic six times before returning home. Ponder this and wonder who it was more shocking for. Was it more startling for Squanto, coming home to his village from England, only to find more white people there and everyone he knows dead? Or was it more shocking to those largely uneducated white settlers who were used to natives as savages to meet one who was better educated than most of them and spoke fluent English?
Yep, that was Thanksgiving. We took this land from the indigenous Americans after the plague wiped them out, then locked them into square houses and took their power away (to paraphrase Black Elk, a famous Iroquis political-philosopher). We Americans are still taking the power away from indigenous Americans, with many growing up on reservations rife with alcoholism and poor nutrition. While the speed of genocide has slowed it still exists.
Now that you know the REAL story of the first Thanksgiving, and what the holy day is really celebrating (God, plague, and massacre), here is my Thanksgiving paradox. I’ve seen tons of my friends, often the same ones who mention the colonial roots of this holiday, arguing for a shopping boycott on Thanksgiving. The paradox is, how can you argue against the awful colonial history of the holiday and square that with your defense of it’s sacredness against the horrors of capitalism? So, how do you reconcile your dislike of capitalism’s encroachment on this holiday with this holiday’s barbaric roots?
I say the work around is morph the holiday into one of remembrance of those lost and a time to spend with those still alive; celebrate the children who are the future. My opposition to shopping and working on Thanksgiving is rooted in my desire to be with family and that others should spend the day with family. But we are a capitalist nation so if people want to work that is their call and who am I to stop them? I just won’t support the practice economically.