Thanksgiving Proclamation of the State of New York, signed by Benjamin B. Odell, Jr., Governor, November 14, 1904. Thanksgiving Day proclamations by the Governor, 1874-1925, series A3286-88. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives.
Just about every American knows the popular story of Thanksgiving: it commemorates a 1621 Plymouth, Massachusetts harvest feast at which both English colonists and Wampanoag Indians were present. The colonists would have perished had the Wampanoag not taught them how to cultivate corn and to catch native fish, and they held the feast in order to thank God and the Wampanoag for their survival.
As turns out, the 1621 feast was not the first harvest festival held in the future United States. Moreover, the holiday's popular narrative has been criticized as a whitewashing of history: it stresses cooperation between and peaceful coexistence of Native Americans and European settlers and erases the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, and countless other horrors that Native Americans suffered at the hands of colonists and their descendants. In recent decades Thanksgiving has become a day of protest, not celebration, for many Native Americans.
My own thoughts about Thanksgiving are mixed. I understand perfectly why so many Native Americans find the day repellent. However, I'm also keenly aware that this holiday has acquired multiple meanings. For most Americans, it currently centers around family, food, football, and reflection upon those intangible things for which, as individuals and as a nation, we feel grateful. Although it retains something of a religious/spiritual component, it is comfortably celebrated by Americans of all faiths and none whatsoever. For those Americans who were formerly citizens of other countries, celebrating Thanksgiving is an essential part of claiming a new national identity. In terms of cultural significance and distinctiveness, it is second only to Independence Day.
I'm celebrating this Thanksgiving quietly. In a few minutes, I'm going to start making some bread stuffing -- always my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal -- and some pumpkin mousse and share it with a dear friend who's preparing some mashed potatoes and other goodies. I'll watch the New Orleans Saints-Dallas Cowboys game (Geaux Saints!), and then clean up the kitchen a bit.
I'm thankful for my family, my friends, my cats, all the wonderful archives and wonderful archivists out there, the Bill of Rights, and countless other things. I'm also thankful for this blog and for everyone who reads my ramblings. If you're in the United States -- or the city of Leiden -- I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. If you're elsewhere, I wish you a very happy Thursday.