Thursday, November 23, 2017

When Black Friday Comes

On today's doorstep, more evidence that I am a stranger in my own culture:

The Black Friday thing crept up while I wasn't looking, though of course it's hard to ignore every year. I do my best to pretend it isn't happening, but this pile of paper is a weighty reminder. It's literally about five pounds.

Meanwhile, the Star Tribune ran a New York Times fact-check article on page 2, reminding readers that the "first Thanksgiving" wasn't what our culture seems to think it was. I'm sure I've heard all or most of this before, but the article reminded me.

First, the area that became Plymouth, Massachusetts, wasn't a wilderness when the English settlers arrived in 1620. It was

already a village with clear fields and a spring when the Pilgrims found it. "A lovely place to settle...Why was it available? Because every single native person who had been living there was a corpse." Plagues had wiped them out.
And then there's what we were taught about the English settlers and their religion:
It’s been taught that the Pilgrims came because they were seeking religious freedom, but that’s not entirely true.... The Pilgrims had religious freedom in Holland, where they first arrived in the early 17th century. Like those who settled Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, the Pilgrims came to North America to make money....

“They were also coming here in order to establish a religious theocracy, which they did,” he said. “That’s not exactly the same as coming here for religious freedom. It’s kind of coming here against religious freedom.”

Also, the Pilgrims never called themselves Pilgrims. They were separatists.... The term Pilgrims didn’t surface until around 1880.
The feast — with both local native people and settlers in attendance — did happen in 1621, but no one knows who initiated it or who invited who. Harvest feasts were a common practice, of course, so it's really nothing particularly noteworthy.

Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, not long after he'd had 38 Dakota men hung by the neck until death, here at Fort Snelling. The largest mass execution in U.S. history.

Despite all of this, I like having a national holiday based on food, the harvest, and thankfulness, with no necessary religious basis. Everything else that many of my fellow citizens associate with it (from "Pilgrims" to shopping), I can live without.


Some earlier thoughts on the founders of Plymouth Colony and Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates (2008).

No comments: