*Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images
I am reminded every single year why Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday in young adulthood.
Holidays tend to take on a new meaning in this phase in your life. Saint Patrick’s Day is no longer a day to wear green to school, but for indulgent drinking — usually on a school night — and pretending to be Irish. Halloween, as well, has found itself in the same mold as Saint Patrick’s Day. Christmas, at least for me, lost its allure somewhere in middle school and now acts as a day of excess and letdown that never quite lives up to the countless Christmas films and specials we all watch every year.
Thanksgiving is not an excuse to go to a dingey party nor get caught up in the bustle of what gift to buy for whom. It is a day for some serious reflection and thought; not whatever hastily thought up resolution you decided upon on New Year’s Eve and forgot about a few weeks later.
Despite my undeniable passion for the holiday, it continues to dishearten me when I see the throngs of high school classmates or acquaintances from college delve into the nonsense being pushed by survey course history professors and Left-wing media outlets. As I write this, I know I am due to see many Facebook text walls from “woke” college freshmen and a litany of Vox articles ready to lecture us plebes that while we are carving up the turkey or watching the Cowboys play, we are actually celebrating the genocide of Native Americans.
If I sound like a culture-warrior in the remainder of this piece, it is because they made me into one. I wish that I could fill this column with all of the reasons that Thanksgiving has become my favorite day of the year and my plans for the day. But like Andrew Breitbart before me, I feel as if I am no longer able sit on the sidelines of this battle over the American national consciousness.
That hot take that someone you know is sure to blurt out at the proverbial uncle during dinner is intellectually lazy, ignorant of history and lacking of important details about the establishment of the holiday. The old adage “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is a good one; and the claim that Americans are celebrating the loss of Native American life every year is one that does not hold up to even the slightest bit of scrutiny.
Let’s start, naturally, with the first Thanksgiving. Except, the 1621 celebration in Plymouth is sparsely documented and probably not the first day of thanksgiving celebrated on the North American continent. Some historians point to a 1619 event in Virginia or celebrations by Spanish explorers in 1598 and 1565 as being the real “first Thanksgiving.” All of these celebrations were done by different people, but had in common that they were not celebrations about the conquering of the New World — or whatever the modern day Left has made it out to be — but days of reflection and, of course, thanksgiving. And who could not help but be thankful that they had survived such a treacherous journey and were living a new life in the New World?
Like cultures around the world are prone to do, our idea of the first Thanksgiving is more myth than fact. But, there are things that are well known about the celebration in Plymouth in 1621. After escaping religious persecution in England and leaving the proto-multiculturalism of Holland, the Pilgrims landed somewhere that they never intended and barely survived their first winter. After emerging from the Mayflower with half the population they had started with, they soon came into contact with the nearby Native American tribe, the Wampanoag. Among his tribe lived Squanto, a former English slave and one of the only people on the entire continent who could communicate with the Pilgrims. He taught the Pilgrims farming and hunting techniques and started an alliance between the two groups that lasted decades. To celebrate their first harvest and newfound friendship, the Pilgrims and Native Americans feasted and celebrated for three days.
However, this conception of the holiday was not actively celebrated nor practiced in other parts of the colonies for over a century. In fact, George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation had nothing to do with the first Thanksgiving, but was to celebrate the “happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution” with a day of public “thanksgiving and prayer.” During the Revolutionary War in 1777, the Continental Congress called for a day of thanksgiving to celebrate victory over the British at Saratoga.
Thanksgiving did not even become an official public holiday until 1863, when President Lincoln lamented to the long-time demands of writer Sarah Josepha Hale to do so. In his proclamation, President Lincoln called upon Americans to give thanks to God and to celebrate victories in the Civil War. At a time like no other when the American nation was sorting out what its ideals were, Thanksgiving was there to celebrate the best of the United States of America
I believe that part of the Left’s continued hysteria over Thanksgiving is likely due to the religious connotations that have been at the forefront of the holiday since its inception. The Puritan settlers were certainly thankful to God that their ship — that was far off course — landed within close proximity to one of the only people on the entire continent who could communicate with them: the English-speaking, Christian, Native American named Squanto. The Continental Congress was equally thankful to God that their army was succeeding in a war against the most powerful military in the world and so was President Washington at both the miraculous success of the revolution and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. President Lincoln certainly had reason to be thankful that at a time over the battle of his nation’s heart and soul, the right side was winning.
Since then, countless Americans have gathered around their dining room tables with their families and loved ones to celebrate and consider the things for which they are thankful.
Every time I sit down for a Thanksgiving meal, I am reminded of how well the holiday captures the uniqueness of the American national consciousness. While we may have the eternal image of a Norman Rockwell painting ingrained in our minds when thinking about the food spread, that does not totally capture the conception of Thanksgiving today. Americans of all backgrounds have adapted practicing the holiday into their own ways, easily seen in how food or ways of cooking from their ancestral homelands has been incorporated into their Thanksgiving dinners. The items on the menu are not important; what is important is the tradition that we share as Americans.
Despite hailing from different homelands, residing in different parts of this vast country and often speaking different languages, we all come together every November for a day of thanksgiving, reflection, prayer and family. Marking Thanksgiving as one of the only few public holidays that is celebrated equally across the many subsets of the American population.
I am unable to think of anything more uniquely American than that. And I sure am thankful to be living in such an exceptional country.