November 27, 2008
“Thank you.” Now there’s a phrase that sounds good. It’s a feel good phrase too. I’ve been appreciated … smile.
“GEE THANKS.” Hold on a minute … was that gratitude or attitude? Did I detect a note of sarcasm in that last phrase? Inflection is very important.
Teach your child to be polite. Wind him up and send him into the world of manners. He’ll leave a trail of warm fuzzies wherever he goest.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to hear “thank you” and, even more, I love to say it. But, most of all, I love to mean it. In order to mean it, I mean really mean it, I have to know its meaning.
On the fourth Thursday of each November in the U.S., families gather together. Some … to give the Lord Blessings; others … to enjoy a secular ritual over a Turkey surrounded by holiday accouterments.
Food abounds and forks make many trips to the serving platters. A common phenomenon, at Thanksgiving time, is for people to stuff more than the turkey.
“I am so full I cannot eat another bite.”
This moment of satiety lasts as long as it takes for the dessert to exit the kitchen.
“Maybe I’ll try some pumpkin pie.” “Ah … hot apple pie. Put a little ice cream on that, please.”
Gobbling a Turkey is an American tradition. Lying there with its legs up in the air, the turkey has become a celebratory centerpiece.
“Who will carve the bird?”
Carving has been elevated to an art form. The slices should be juicy and thin. Once perfectly formed, they are put on board the gravy boat.
Conversation presents a challenge. Nobody wanted to sit next to Uncle Mike, with his combination of chewing while spitting food. He seems to be the only one at the table who is unaware of the bits of turkey that fly through his teeth as he entertains everyone with the same story he told last year.
“Is it the Tryptophan, or am I growing sleepy?”
Bob and Betty haven’t spoken for years, yet each Thanksgiving they find themselves sentenced to Mom’s prison table.
“Please, be nice … do it for me. It’s only once a year.”
And, eventually, “this too shall pass,” as arms reach into sleeves, and coats hop on backs.
“Goodnight and thank you.”
Thank you? There’s that phrase again.
Thanks (giving). What is this holiday and why has it become an American tradition?
When I was in Elementary School, my teachers told me the story of Thanksgiving. It was a heartwarming story indeed. The Pilgrims had come to this new world, America, and found the place inhabited by Indians.
“Hi Chief, nice to meet you. I’d like to invite you to dine with us.”
In 1621, near the end of the Plymouth Colony’s first year in America, the settlers gave thanks for a plentiful harvest. They joyously invited their new friends, the Indians, to share in their good fortune. The Pilgrims and the natives dined together.
“Pass the stuffing, Squanto.”
The Pilgrims arranged something called a “peace turkey” and everyone feasted on geese, ducks, deer, corn, oysters, fish and berries. And … they lived happily after.
I am afraid that the teacher had taught me the expurgated version. Her first Thanksgiving might’ve appeared on a Hallmark card, but not in the early United States. The teacher did not mention the many subsequent Thanksgivings during which the Pilgrims gave “thanks” for their victories over the indigenous people.
In Mitchel Cohen’s piece called “Why I Hate Thanksgiving” he draws upon the writings of Historian, Howard Zinn, to describe how Columbus massacred the Indians. Columbus had written:
“The Indians are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone.”
Columbus concluded his report by asking for a little help from the King and Queen, and, in return he would bring them “as much gold as they need, and as many slaves as they ask.”
Slaves? Gold? My mind traveled back to the childlike sketches I’d made of the Nina the Pinta and the Santa Maria as my second grade teacher entertained us with stories about Chris the Courageous. Why had I not been taught about Christopher the Cruel? Christopher the cold blooded?
Mitchell Cohen continued,
“Columbus’s men murdered more than 100,000 Indians on Haiti alone. Overall, dying as slaves in the mines, or directly murdered, or from diseases brought to the Caribbean by the Spaniards, over 3 million Indian people were murdered between 1494 and 1508.”
Is this any way to say “Hi?”
The stage was set for the Thanksgivings that followed.
“Three hundred thousand Indians were murdered in New England by the Puritan elite who wanted the war, a war for land, for gold, for power. And, in the end, the Indian population of 10 million that was in North America when Columbus came was reduced to less than one million.”
The practice known as “scalping” was introduced by the English.
Had it not been for the humanity of the Indigenous people, the Pilgrims would not have survived that first difficult year. The Indians brought them deer meat and beaver skins. They taught them the skills they needed to survive on the land. They taught them how to navigate the waters, fish and cultivate vegetables. They told the Pilgrims which were the poisonous plants and showed how other plants could be used as medicines. They treated the Pilgrims with dignity and kindness. And how were they “thanked?” Not at the party table passing the “peace turkey” (unless “massacre” means “thank you” in Pilgrimese!).
… It’s November again and people have begun planning this years festivities. The day before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day in this country. And while people are flying to see their loved ones (and not so loved ones) do they ever think about the real meaning of this holiday? Or are they content to remain in second grade with myths and distortions protecting them from the “difficult to stomach” truths. While they busily make their reservations, do they wonder how this holiday is experienced on the Indian Reservations? While they are busy defining the word gluttony, do they consider if the Native Americans of this land have enough to eat?
“Thank you” is a beautiful phrase. I feel it each and every day.
Today I am alive, and Mother Earth has cradled me in her arms. I have wonderful, caring friends and family and an opportunity to make a difference, personally and professionally.
Do I want to pull the plug on the Turkey Dinner? Not really. Do I want to storm off the computer with my “Why I hate Thanksgiving Part 2”? No, not at all. What I would like is to redefine this holiday and, in doing so, reserve my thanks for places more appropriate and not weighted down with the symbolism of cruelty and suffering.
The bloody history of Thanksgiving is incompatible with the simple and honest gesture of giving thanks.