In conjunction with Thanksgiving, Cass and I will explore gratitude on this this week’s podcast. As I started to muck around in the history of Thanksgiving and the idea of gratitude, a few things came to mind. Most of us know the story of the first Thanksgiving we learn in elementary school is less than accurate and portrays the event through the rosiest of rose colored glasses. Why do we cling to this visage of happy Indians and gracious pilgrims eating turkey and pumpkin pie together when we know their tumultuous and violent relationship resulted in years of war and unrest? The post-feast ritual of Black Friday sales are also curious, although logical enough in our consumer centered culture. But a greed fest right after a day of a national day thanksgiving? Really?
Walk into any American kindergarten classroom in mid-November and you’ll be faced with oodles of handprint turkeys stapled to the walls, corn shaped connect-the-dot worksheets strewn about and a mini sweatshop of six year olds busily assembling their pilgrim hats and paper bag Indian dresses with brass brads and glue sticks. This is how they learn the story of the first Thanksgiving, and the story goes like this: When the Pilgrims came to America from England they didn’t have any food and they were tired and didn’t know how to do anything. Squanto, chief of local Indian tribe showed up and said they would totally stoked to teach the pilgrims what they needed to know to survive. They planted corn together, caught wild turkeys and built houses together. In the Fall of 1621 the pilgrims harvested their crops and invited the Indians to the feast. The Indians brought food and they all sat down together, said a prayer and ate. Then they played games and took a nap. The end.
A lovely vision of charity, unity and gratitude but missing a few important facts. The Pilgrims actually called themselves separatists, and harvest celebrations have been happening throughout the world FOREVER. The one in 1621 didn’t happen in November but most likely late September or October. The homestead the Pilgrims and Indians worked together to establish was actually the remains of a Wampanoag village, Squanto’s home. After he had been captured by the British and sold into slavery, a smallpox epidemic (courtesy of the Europeans) wiped out the entire population. Squanto learned English in order to escape slavery and upon returning home, discovered his village had been commandeered by the Separatists. Some Wampanoag did attend the feast in 1621 but their relationship with the settlers had always been a bit unstable and eventually deteriorated. In 1637, the settlers accused the Wampanoag of killing one of their men. In retaliation the settlers attacked a neighboring Wampanoag village killing hundreds of men, women and children and burning it to the ground. When the battle was over, Plymouth’s governor, William Bradford marked Thanksgiving day as a celebration of the victory. In 1789 George Washington designated November 26 as Thanksgiving day. In 1863 Lincoln made it a federal holiday in an attempt to unify a divided nation during the civil war.
The imagery and story we are familiar with today was Lincoln’s contribution and it still resonates. We share home-cooked dishes, sit together and eat, talk, tell stories, laugh. Turkey plates, gravy boats, weird jello salads, potatoes, pumpkin pie. Grandma’s silver, a toast to those who have gone before us, all bound together in the spirit of gratitude. Then we clean up and anxiously await the next holiday ritual – Black Friday.
Full bellied Americans venture out into the dark, wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving to do battle for door busting deals on electronics, cordless leaf blowers and TVs. So. Many Deals. Teetering masses coming off of a thankful bender, crash though store doorways pushing their fellow shoppers, yelling, shoving items into their carts, eyes bulging with raw greed. Black Friday has become associated with violence. Last year, Reviews.org published the article “These States are at High Risk for Black Friday Violence”. Here are some highlights:
- Arkansas wins top place for the highest risk of Black Friday violence, Tennessee is second and West Virginia third.
- 57.1% of incidents happened at Walmart.
- Incident types and percentage of total: Trampled 30%, Shooting 26.7%, Car 16.7%, stabbing 13.3%, pepper spray 6.7, and fight 6.7.
Wikipedia notes that there have been 117 injuries and 12 deaths since 2006 attributed to Black Friday shopping altercations.
It seems more is never enough.
Merriam Webster defines Thankful as “conscious of a benefit received” and Grateful as “the state of being grateful: Thankfulness”.
When we are conscious of benefits received and truly grateful for them, we experience a kind of peace that leaves no room for greed, envy or jealously. We are full, satiated in spirit, connected to our fellow humans and environment. This is the sentiment of elementary school celebrations, a parable of gratitude set on the stage of American history, however bastardized. It is an ideal worth donning rosy shades for, a lesson far more valuable than any Black Friday sale has to offer. Especially at Walmart.
The old narrative is alive and well; the desire for more at the expense of others versus the peace and connection that gratitude affords. One an insatiable, bottomless pit, the other a never ending harvest.
May we sow our seeds with gratitude and discover that enough is more fruitful than more.