Thanksgiving: A harvest festival where harmony trumps hate


SAN JOSE, November 26, 2014 – Within the heart of the month of November, which has been designated as National American Indian Heritage Month since 1990, is the holiday of Thanksgiving; a celebration which still holds great meaning for families and friends, and friendship on a broader level.

In 1621, a simple harvest festival provided common ground for the two cultures to bond. Unfortunately, over the centuries, numerous myths have developed regarding this foundation festival that became known as the “First Thanksgiving.” Many of these myths have effectively diminished the deeper or more substantive meaning woven into the relationships which were established in that moment in time. On the other hand, Progressive-revisionist historians have tended to distort the value of such relations.

Additionally, perspectives on the holiday have changed as America changed, but this holiday still stands as a reminder of a single event in time when two diverse cultures managed celebrate the value of life together. Often in recounting the Thanksgiving story, it is viewed from the perspective of the Pilgrims since their record is the only known written documentation of the festivities. However, if one views this festival from a perspective of the American Indians, minus the Progressive-revisionist vitriol, it is truly possible to widen the scope of meaning of the event. And, even though it is historically viewed as a “Thanksgiving” for the Pilgrims, it has more significance when viewed as a Thanksgiving for the Indians. It is likely that the Wampanoag may have been celebrating their fifth thanksgiving ceremony of the year at the “First Thanksgiving.”

In reality, many American Indian cultures throughout the Americas, following the ways of the ancients, dedicated numerous annual occasions for expressing gratitude to the Creator for the gifts provided to them. According to tradition, some native peoples (as did the Wampanoag) would regularly offer thanks to the Creator at the beginning of the new year, in the Spring at the time of planting, at various points during the summer growing season (i.e. early harvest) and in the Autumn at the end of the harvest season and even in the midst of the winter months. Consideration of the internal or spiritual aspects of this celebration reveals the American Indian way of integrating their “religious” tendencies or natural spiritualism into their day to day lives.

Considered in this manner, even though it is historically viewed in the United States as a “Thanksgiving” for the Separatists (the true designation of the Pilgrims), it was not. The rigid Pilgrim beliefs viewed a day of thanksgiving to be dedicated to gratitude to God for some incredibly significant event like surviving a plague, or the end of a drought or a war. The Puritans, who were equally as rigid in their beliefs (or more so) as the Separatists, also held the belief that “thanksgiving” days were serious occasions fulfilled through offering of solemn prayers, pious humiliation, and praise of God’s efforts in their lives. Such holy days would have been observed more strictly through much more structured or traditional church services. Nevertheless, the Europeans were also accustomed to harvest festivals in the old country.

The festive event referred to by Pilgrim writings was a joyous celebration of gratitude that blended traditional harvest festivals from each of the two cultures. The Europeans had celebrated harvest festivals for thousands of years. In fact, the roots of Halloween are embedded in ancient Celtic harvest festivals. In a like manner, many American Indian groups for thousands of years would offer gratitude for bountiful harvests and celebrate thankfulness and hope for survival another year. The Wampanoag Indians, one of the many Algonquian speaking peoples of the Northeast Woodland nations, often celebrated bountiful harvests, and offered thanks to the Creator at various times throughout each year as part of their normal sequence of seasonal rituals.

Yet, this harvest festival in 1621 was markedly different, as well as special, for both Pilgrim and Indian. For both, this event was the first time that they would have celebrated a harvest with people from an entirely different continent and from a vastly different culture. For both, it was outwardly a simple harvest festival, not a more solemn religious event. But, it did serve as an opportunity to offer gratitude or thanksgiving to their respective Creator or God. For the devout Pilgrims, who initiated the event, it represented an opportunity to say thank you to the natives who had provided much needed and real substantial assistance. The three days of feasting would not have happened without foundations of friendly human relationships that happened to transcend the fundamental differences between the   two distinct races of people.

In addition, this celebration of three days, sealed in friendship the peace treaty that had originally been established between the sachem, Massasoit, and John Carver, the first governor of the Plimouth Colony on March 22, 1621. Carver died about one month after the signing of the treaty, and William Bradford was elected the Governor of the struggling colony. That peace lasted until Massasoit died in 1661 – a period of at least 40 years! Sadly, when this period of colonial history is studied, it is not the peace that was established between these two races that is studied, it is usually the breakdown of that peace, or King Phillip’s War that is scrutinized. One who pursues peace may wonder why it is so essential to focus on the factors that emphasize the destructiveness of human beings and ignore the promotion of peace.

Progressive-revisionist historians prefer to dispute the establishment of peace between these two peoples, and prefer to focus on the battles, raids, and murders that were committed during that time. Yet, this period needs to be kept in a wider perspective, and it would be wise to compare the period of relative calm experienced in this northeast portion of North America in the early 1600s to the history of the major conflicts in Europe spanning hundreds of years, or perhaps compare the period of tension existing in Europe after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that established the peace after the Great War. That peace only lasted until Mussolini and Hitler started attacking their neighbors. It is important to maintain some perspective of comparison in understanding the value of this period of peace.

It is true that the absence of war does not equal peace, but the absence of calm does not equal outright war. The relative peace may have been interrupted by the rebellious, or the lawless, but a relative peace was maintained while the great chief, Massasoit, was alive. All-out war only erupted after he died, and much of that had to do with an angry second son and the Puritan’s treatment of the Wampanoag people peoples and less to do with the Pilgrims or Separatists. Massasoit proved to be a gracious leader by allowing the Pilgrims to settle at Pautuxet, he permitted Squanto to assist the Pilgrims in surviving in his territory, and initiated the alliance and peace. Thanksgiving proved they could live together in harmony.

Today, in light of the events going on in Ferguson, and across the county, the efforts of these two peoples coming together in harmony shames the “progress” of the Progressives in helping young Americans learn a proper understanding of how to live together in a diverse society. Focusing on the potential of human harmony requires a genuine effort intended to get past the pain of loss, past resentment, past religious or political dogma, and past negative, judgmental attitudes.

Getting past all the emotional and intellectual baggage may be difficult, but possible. In this light, it may reveal that there in the soil of New England, it was not just kernels of corn that were planted, but particles of possibility that someday diverse peoples could put aside their differences and celebrate a harvest of harmony rather than hatred, a promotion of life rather than destructiveness.

Happy Thanksgiving –  there is more to be thankful for than may meet the eye!

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Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member at West Valley College in California. He currently writes a column on US history and one on American freedom for the Communities Digital News, as well as writing for other online publications. During the 2016 presidential primaries, he worked as the leader of a network of writers, bloggers, and editors who promoted the candidacy of Dr. Ben Carson. He founded the “We the People” Network of writers and the Citizen Sentinels Project to pro-actively promote the values and principles established at the founding of the United States, and to discover and support more morally centered citizen-candidates who sincerely seek election as public servants, not politicians.