The changing meaning of Thanksgiving

By Gordon Davis

Like everything else, Thanksgiving changes; nothing on Earth stays the same forever.

The traditional history of Thanksgiving is that of the English Pilgrims migrating to America and landing at Plymouth on December 11, 1621. During that winter the Pilgrims or Puritans lost 46 of their party of 102. The others would have perished, too, if the Native Indians did not have pity on them. They provided the Puritans with corn and other food stuffs.  With the help of the Native Indians, the Puritans learned to farm and had a bountiful harvest in 1622. There was a celebration of bounty that Fall.

In 1676 Thanksgiving changed. Charlestown, Massachusetts proclaimed a Thanksgiving for the victory over the “heathen” Indians. This was the end of the King Phillip War in which the town of Quinsigamond, now know as Worcester, was burned to the ground. The Colonialists from Massachusetts and Connecticut killed most of the Native Indian children at Turner Falls in Massachusetts.

The Revolutionary War found Thanksgiving changing once again. This time in October 1777 there was celebration of the Colonialists’ victory over the Imperialist British at the Battle of Saratoga. All 13 Colonies participated.

George Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1789. Abraham Lincoln set the last Thursday of November as the date of celebration for the good fortune of the American Civil War. It was proclaimed to be a legal holiday in 1941 by Congress as the United States was entering World War II.

Besides the traditional and sometimes religious celebrations there is a new meaning: the Day of Mourning for the Native Indians who died due to imperialism and colonialism. This view of Thanksgiving is gaining acceptance, especially among the young.

When I think of Thanksgiving this year I think of my two friends Claire  and Scott Schaefer Duffy who have taken a vow of poverty. They live on less than $6,000 a year. Although they have their wants, as we all do, they live a good life. They make do by not living extravagantly and by socialization of needs. Essentially, they do without or they share resources with others.

Today might be the time for all of us to do the same. Conspicuous consumption has led to the development of a world economy that creates poverty, war, disruptions and the destructive forces of global warming and climate changes. There is a need to reduce our standard of living. Some of us will have to share a car or get on a bus. We will have to eat more locally grown food. We will have to share our work.

The point of no return might have already been passed in terms of climate change. When the ice of the polar caps melts, the temperature of the oceans will increase more rapidly than most of us can image.

This Thanksgiving I will be thankful to all of the people who have rejected the temptations of the profit-driven economy and conspicuous spending to live a life where human resources are more valuable than that which glitters. I am thankful for having a family and friends.

I will be thankful for being able to still write these words.