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Thanksgiving: My Favorite False Story Charles Popov

Thanksgiving: My Favorite False Story

It’s 2:22 am on Thanksgiving morning and I can’t sleep because I had my booster shot yesterday. While I feel rather ______, I did get a boost of inspiration to write. I’d like to reflect on why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Firstly, it is not a holiday for which we go into debt (quit complaining that the Thanksgiving meal is 14% higher due to inflation, as it’s only about a buck more for the turkey. LOL). It is not as commercialized.  Secondly, it involves truly giving thanks for family, friends, health, and all the good things that we have in our lives. Thirdly, I like to cook and eat. Fourthly, I love the weather and fall colors.

Historically, however, we’ve been handed a false narrative about the holiday. Before we wax nostalgic about the good ole days of Thanksgivings past, when everyone and everything was more perfect, consider the following.

You were probably taught, as was I, that the Pilgrims (not called such by their countrymen, but referred to as Separatists, an offshoot of the Puritan Church, which was an offshoot of the Church of England), came to the new world, and after a trying winter, met with the Indians (I am fully aware of the most recent PC designations of American Indian or Indigenous American as preferred. As I said, this is what I was taught as a kid), and they all had a great dinner.  Right?  Just like our personal narratives (we make our stories say the best about us while hiding the dark sides), we have a redacted version as a country.  We create stories that shed us in a better light.  Our history was taught from the standpoint of the conquerors.  Of course, many versions of our history suggests that the ends justify the means, and we did what we had to do in the name of human progress, land acquisition, and capitalism.  We all have our favorite false stories, don’t we?

We won’t even go into the atrocities which the native peoples in Latin countries experienced at the hands of persons like Columbus, Cortez, and Pizarro, a century before the Pilgrims.  We’ll just stick with the good ole North American Thanksgiving story.  Suffice it to say, history shows that the native inhabitants had no good reason to trust the Europeans even before they landed in Cape Cod.

Events Leading up to the first Thanksgiving

At the start of the 17th century, Southern New England was the home of a variety  of Algonquin speaking peoples, made up of several confederations of about 100,000 people. These were “The Ninnimisinuok”, or the “People of the First Light.”  It’s political leaders (Sachem) had been trading with Europeans for over 100 years before the so-called Pilgrims came.  Relations soured between the Indians and the Europeans after the native peoples were kidnapped for slavery. Long before the colonies were established, Richard Grenville came to Virginia with 7 ships. Initially, relations were friendly, but after a native allegedly stole a cup, Grenville sacked and burned the whole village.  In Jamestown, when the English were starving in the winter of 1610, some of the English went to live and be fed by neighboring Indians.  In the spring, the governor asked for the runaways to be returned, and when the Indians refused, soldiers besieged the camp of the Indians, killing 16 males, and took the queen and the children away. The children were thrown overboard the ships, and “their brains were blown out.”  The queen was later taken away and stabbed to death.  12 years later, the Indians fearful of the European growth, killed 347 settlers.  War was on.  Unable to either enslave or live with the Indians, the English decided to exterminate them. 

In 1616, Europeans introduced disease, and what is referred to as the “Great Dying” of 1616-1619), and the inhabitants died in droves.  Separatists were hated by King James I of England.  He persecuted them in 1604, and they moved to Holland in 1608.  There they were free to worship, but were fearful of losing their national identity and culture, and so they decided to go to America.  In 1617, begrudgingly, King James agreed to let them go.  They planned to fish and make a profit to pay off their investors.  The ship “The Mayflower” set sail on September 6, 1620 from Plymouth England.  There were a total of 102 passengers (74 male, 28 female. 49 were SAINTS of the Separatist Congregation, 52 were STRANGERS-servants and recruits of Thomas Weston, Merchant of London).  65 days later, on November 11, 1620, the beleaguered group landed at Cape Cod.  No one knew how to fish, the food had run out, and they resorted to robbing graves, storage bins, and houses to survive.  The Mayflower Compact was signed.  I read it this morning. It’s a short document that sets up an agreement of how the people would be preserved and governed. On December 8, 1620 there was some hostility with the natives, but no one was hurt.  On December 12, 1620, they reached New Plymouth.  There was no actual rock, but folklore says it to have been.   

Construction began in January 1621, and by winter’s end, 44 persons had died. In March a political leader showed up and informed the settlers that they had been building on the ruins of the Indian city called Patuxet, and that all the people had died from disease. The settlers were eager to trade, so 5 days later, companions came, and introduced and English-speaking Indian named Tasquantan (Squanto).   He informed the Pilgrims that his chief, Massasoit, had arrived to meet them.  Governor John Carver welcomed him regally.  They established a peace treaty to provide mutual protection.  With Squanto’s help, they were taught to plant, and their conditions improved.  He was highly regarded, but 7 years earlier, he was captured and enslaved by Spaniards, and ended up in London. A merchant taught him English and assisted him in returning home in 1619.  When he arrived, he realized all of his people had died because of the epidemic,  Chief Massasoit used him as an interpreter.  In November 1621, there was a bountiful feast.  Massosoit showed up with 90 warriors and 5 deer. They ate and gave thanks for 3 days. However, it was not until after the Revolutionary War, when the first congress made the yearly celebration an official holiday. 

But wait, there’s more!

Squanto conceived a plan to overthrow Massasoit. He deceived the locals into believing that the English would follow his lead for war or peace.  Governor Bradford informed Massasoit, and the chief wanted Squanto turned over to him.  Bradford denied for a while, and when he had finally agreed,  the ordeal was interrupted by a ship of 60 more Englishmen planning a colony. They landed in Boston.  They abused the inhabitants, and when they planned to fight back, the Plymouth colony sent soldiers to fight for their fellow countrymen. Many villages were savagely attacked and burned. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, the Puritans had an uneasy truce with the Pequot Indians there. In 1636, the Puritans wanted to establish dominance, and used the alleged murder of a white trader (a trouble maker, Indian kidnapper) as an excuse to war with the Pequot.  Some things never change. I spent 27 months of my life in Iraq. The excuse to go there was weapons of mass destruction, and feeding off the frenzy of 911, it was fully embraced by all decision makers. Osama Bin Laden was not there either. Hell, there were no terrorists their until we got there, and then they came and fought us from the four corners of the earth. We were able to realize capital gains through the war efforts, however.  I spent two Thanksgivings there in that hell hole, but I digress. I would like to thank the Army for always making nice Thanksgiving meals.  LOL

Back to my story

There was a temporary peace (based on the treaty with Massasoit of 1621-1660), but when more English arrived, outnumbering the natives, Prince Philip’s (3rd son of Massasoit) War broke out in 1675.  The history of our country holds the horrible truths of the atrocities of the Europeans against the native inhabitants, who were no match for them. 

Puritan fanatical religion assured no peace between them and the Native Americans. They perceived them as godless savages, and unless they were converted to Christianity (their form of it), would lose their cultural identity, language, customs, and religion, they had to be exterminated.  John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared that the land was a “vacuum”, that the natives had not “subdued” the land, and had only a “natural right”, not a “civil right.”  Therefore, they had no legal standing to the land.  Of course, scripture, in accordance to God’s will, was used to vindicate their position:

Psalm 2:8-Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

Romans 13:2-Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Of course, there were atrocities on both sides, but the elite of the Puritans wanted war, were the aggressors, and used it as a means to grab land, and civilization ( “human progress”).  There are many histories which give this slant. Indeed, that is what I was taught in school. 

Now the hopeful part.

All religions have a component of thanksgiving or gratefulness. In a book I just recently finished--”The Book Of Joy”, Douglass Abrams reflects on how Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama talk about gratitude. The Dalai Lama says, “everyday I wake up, I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it.”  Bishop Tutu notes, “You can be helped to look at the world from a different perspective. Where some people see a half-empty cup, you can see it half full.”

He further notes that thankfulness moves us away from the narrow-minded focus of fault and lack, and to the wider perspective of abundance and benefit.  Happiness doesn’t make us grateful; gratefulness makes us happy.  Abrams notes that UC Professor Robert Emmons has been studying gratefulness for over a decade. He sited one study (McCullough and Tsang) found that grateful people do not seem to ignore or deny negative aspects of life; they simply choose to appreciate the positive as well. 

In another book I have just finished, Dr. Kristen Neff,“Self-Compassion”, also sites a study by Emmons:

Researchers asked a group of undergraduate students to give weekly reports on their current life experiences over a 10-week period.  Students were randomly selected and assigned to 3 different groups.  Those in Group A had to write about things they were grateful for (e.g. family, friends, etc.). Group B were asked to write about things that annoyed them (e.g. drivers, messy kitchens, can’t find parking, etc.), and Group C was a control group which wrote about  anything that effected them that week.  Researchers found that the group that wrote about being grateful were not only happier than the others, but also reported fewer symptoms of illness, exercised more, and generally felt better. 

As a therapist, I have to mention the psychological/brain chemistry benefits of gratitude. It is believed that the hypothalamus (stress regulator in the brain), and the ventral tegmental region (reward circuits) produce a cocktail of neuropeptides when we’re in a thankful state of mind. Serotonin (antidepressant), dopamine (rewards), and endorphins (pain killers) are produced when one is grateful. 

I am grateful for many things this Thanksgiving. My family, America, physical health, and a God given sober mind.    

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