A Curmudgeon Looks at Thanksgiving
I have not let my iconoclastic, cranky side out for a walk for some time. The holiday season seems like a fine time to let loose. I wanted to write about what a stupid holiday Halloween is, but I was afraid my house would get egged. Not by angry kids, but by outraged adults who spend $1.2 billion on costumes. Americans also spend $350 million on pet costumes. Like social critic H.L. Mencken said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” Not wanting to incur the wrath of candy crazed Americans, I have decided to pick on Thanksgiving instead.
The idealized memory of that first Thanksgiving when 90 members of the Wampanoag tribe sat down to eat in friendly harmony with 50 Pilgrims is taught to every school child. This tribe, it should be remembered, gave food to the Pilgrims and taught them how to grow certain crops. Without these Native Americans, those who came over on the Mayflower would have experienced a difficult time surviving that first winter.
The fate that befell Native Americans after their first Thanksgiving is all too often pushed to the back of our memory. As a former social science teacher, I did my best to show students what took place. With the arrival of the Puritans in 1630, our history took a nasty turn. Beginning with the slaughter of the Pequots and continuing to the shameful “battle” at Wounded Knee in 1890, white Americans waged a war of extermination against those they called Indians. Civil War hero General Phil Sheridan said,”The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”
If slavery is our country’s original sin, our treatment of Native Americans is not far behind. We tend to forget this inconvenient truth as we sit down to our November feast.
Ah, the modern day American Thanksgiving, where, in a nation that is 37% obese, the average citizen consumes a meal of 4,500 calories. And notice the division of labor. In most homes the women slave away in the kitchen while the menfolk watch football. Come on guys! I have taken cooking classes. I can prepare a turkey, and I always did the dishes. Are you afraid you will miss a part of the always exciting Detroit Lions game?
Some have said Thanksgiving seems to be a time when family and friends gather and remember why they don’t see each other more often. The copious amounts of alcohol consumed during the day often lend themselves to nasty political fights. This year, when the two most unpopular candidates vied for the presidency, there are bound to be some real knock down, drag out, cover the kid’s ear shouting matches.
Gluttony, bad football, the drunken uncle who starts the political discussion, long travel to spend time with folks you’d rather not see – that’s Thanksgiving for too many Americans. Why do we need a holiday to recognize what we are grateful for? Shouldn’t that be something we are aware of every day? And, oh dear lord, what happens the next day? Black Friday and the mad rush toward an over commercialized Christmas. But that is a subject for another column.
I know I have thrown some cold water on a beloved American holiday. There are many of you that enjoy a warm, low key gathering where love and fellowship reign, and where husbands and sons actually help prepare and clean up. Many of you are also aware of the savagery our nation employed against its original inhabitants. To you, this curmudgeon apologizes.
But I do urge the rest of you, as you consume your turkey and pie, to not forget what happened to the Native Americans soon after that first Thanksgiving.
James Utt was last seen trying to poke holes in the Macy’s Day parade balloons.