The above portrait, “The First Thanksgiving” by William Lockhart (1863-1930) offers us a very traditional image of Thanksgiving. There’s only a couple of problems with it. First, the first documented Thanksgiving Services were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century and the first documented ones were accomplished at Jamestown in 1610. The Plymouth Plantation Observance in 1621 is likely what Lockhart was trying to capture above but pilgrims didn’t dress like that in that time period. Also, the Native Americans shown above are dressed as Plains Indians versus those who lived in the northeast. And, of course, the peaceful meals often portrayed stand in stark contrast to the relations between settlers and native Americans in the years to come. So, what should we do? Ignore, or even mourn, the origins of Thanksgiving? I don’t think so.
First, I think it important to remember that the founders of our nation took pause – not to thank one another – or just to have a big meal together – but to thank God. They came from a smorgasbord of religious beliefs. The colonizers were not trying to escape religion. They all simply wanted to worship in their own way. It is important to remember these pluralistic origins. And for the record, the native Americans also believed, completely independently from any European influence, that we were created. Their theology/mythology surely different from Europeans but they didn’t believe we just happened to be here. They saw spirituality often in more than their European counterparts. Second, just because we messed it up, at least we see the ideal of diverse peoples living together, and depending on one another, occurring early on. The natives did help the Europeans. And the Europeans introduced so much to the natives, including horses, which transformed the continent. We can start it right and continue it right today, even with the terrible errors of history. We need to rally together as Americans, even with the diversity of origins and beliefs. Third, it is important after a hard year of work to get together and celebrate. In our modern world we isolate ourselves so much. There is value, outside of work, to get together with folks and laugh, dance, eat, and have a good time.
I love Thanksgiving. It is far less commercialized than other holidays. And I think there is value in following and remembering the traditions of our ancestors. Even with the skewed history in most Thanksgiving portraits, let us gather together and share in God’s blessings.
I hope you and yours have a very happy Thanksgiving.
Until next time,