Why I Don’t Celebrate Thanksgiving
“This story doesn’t have quite the same fuzzy feelings associated with it as the one where the Indians and Pilgrims are all sitting down together at the big feast. But we need to learn our true history so it won’t ever be repeated.”
— Susan Bates
Two events occurred in The United States which came to comprise the origin of the day known as Thanksgiving.
The first happened in 1614 when a band of English explorers kidnapped Patuxet Indians, sailed back to England with them, and sold them into slavery.
The second came in 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, where over 700 men, women, and children of the Pequot Tribe had celebrated their annual Green Corn Festival. English Emigrants came to their village and demanded that the inhabitants come out of their homes. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while anyone who remained in their homes were burned alive. Those who escaped the immediate violence were chased down and eaten alive by dogs. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony — John Winthrop — declared this massacre a day of “thanksgiving” to the Lord for helping his people clear the way for emigrant prosperity.
It’s from these two events that the term “thanksgiving” came into popular use. For decades massacres continued against the Natives Peoples, while “thanksgivings” were observed by the emigrants in response to the killings. Because massacres were happening so often that it was disruptive to have so many thanksgivings throughout the year, George Washington suggested there be a single day designated for it rather than issuing a thanksgiving every time a massacre happened.
The number of Native Peoples killed by European Emigrants varies in scholarship. From Columbus’ first anchor at Guanahani October 12, 1492, through the 20th Century, David E. Stannard’s figure of approximately 95 million Native Peoples murdered in the Americas, and Russell Thornton’s figure of about 75 million murdered, form the brackets most academics now benchmark. Even lower figures for the genocide count dozens of millions of Native Peoples murdered at the hands of the European Emigrants.
The political vanguard has been convincing in their proselytizing of the capitalist way of life. But promoting Thanksgiving as a day for celebration is an easy sell. Who doesn’t want to spend time with their family, eat and drink over a long weekend, with Christmas around the corner? It’s a nice time of the year to be alive.
That’s how they get you. By participating in the holiday we inadvertently support the genocidal, racist, bloody ideology of the American system.
The killing of Native Peoples that started in Columbus’s time continued for five centuries. Research indicates European Emigrants killed so many Native Peoples that the earth became cooler by 0.15 degrees celsius , or 0.27 degrees fahrenheit.
Our participation in the Thanksgiving holiday reinforces the marginalization of Native Peoples who have never had adequate representation in the United States.
According to Raphael Lemkin there are two phases to genocide: destruction and imposition. Destruction is the annihilation of a people, which includes their political, social, and economic institutions; their culture, language, religion, and their sense of individual security, freedoms, physical and emotional health, and dignity. The second, imposition, is the act of imposing the oppressor’s national values and beliefs on the oppressed. Both have been the practices of the United States federal government in its relations with Native Peoples.
Thanksgiving became an official holiday almost 230 years after the Pequot Massacre, when President Abraham Lincoln called for it to be an official US holiday in a speech given on October 3, 1863.
In the speech Lincoln presses his countrymen to call upon God and “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers” to heal their pain from this “lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”
That civil strife Lincoln is referring to is the genocide of Native Peoples that was commenced by the European emigrants with swift and merciless severity and lasted for centuries:
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union [sic].
Who are “all those” Lincoln is addressing in his speech?
Citizens. Lincoln is addressing only US citizens. Native Peoples were not citizens of the United States in 1863. Citizenship was granted to them 61 years later under Calvin Coolidge, on June 2, 1924.
So while Lincoln’s army was exterminating peoples who had ties to the land more distant than the arrival of the European Emigrants, Lincoln was calling for his countrymen to seek strength in God for protection from the very people European Emigrants were exterminating.
For the purposes of this essay, “participation” is the acceptance of, showing up for, being present during, be it with friends, family, or strangers, a celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. Feasting, eating, pecking, camaraderie, watching movies, television, engaging in football-exalting culture, and festive gatherings over food in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November is in support of the Thanksgiving holiday. To celebrate, abide, or participate with the Thanksgiving holiday is to express, endorse and exalt, the capitalist, racist, genocidal, enterprise initiated by the European Emigrants whose settlements predated the founding of this country. Participation is not excused by economic standing, religion, race, or worldview. Only abstention from or protest of the holiday validates congress for the date it falls on.
Defined by Gregory H. Stanton, the ten stages of genocide are: classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, polarization, organization, preparation, persecution, extermination, and denial.
Let’s redefine and repurpose the holiday in memory of the genocide of Native Peoples of America — that is, the systemic murdering with the purpose of exterminating — Tribal Peoples in the Americas — so that the fourth Thursday in November becomes a day of mourning in the fashion The United American Indians of New England [UAINE] observe it.
Beginning in 1965, Native American Peoples were targeted by the US government for secret female sterilization projects.
George Bush Senior started the Family Planning Act in 1970, which was responsible for the forced sterilization of Native American women, including girls as young as fifteen years old.
Denial of genocide is a sure sign that genocide will happen again. While we know genocide happened against the Native populations, the fact that we aren’t taught it, therefore don’t talk about it openly anywhere, is tantamount to denial because we are choosing to look the other way, and that leads to forgetting about it. Forgotten is the way that it’s been for decades. The majority population — descendent of European Emigrants — of the United States are marginalizing the population that it once attempted to exterminate. But this is a different era, and we are merely the descendants of the murderers and their victims, so culpability is void. When we sweep history under the rug we will stumble over the same events again.
To live in The United States and support its economy is to inadvertently to support its cause. Whether our ideas lead us to identify as a nationalist leaning left or right, a socialist, or a communist; we live in support of our country, however much we may disagree with the actions or philosophy our country puts forth.
We can improve our society by educating ourselves of the history of Native Peoples, and we should do it until the Thanksgiving holiday is retired and a National Day of Mourning replaces it.
People who celebrate Thanksgiving shouldn’t be subjected to pedagogical diatribes, scolded, insulted, or rebuffed. Thanksgiving is an event that we are all swallowed up by. For to live and work in The United States is to abide by racist, murderous, ideology that continues to bury its own history!
There is plenty of scholarship that goes deeper than the facts mentioned here. From Howard Zinn, David E. Stannard, Russell Thornton, et cetera, history came back and resides in the contemporary collective memory.
Articles discussing the origins of Thanksgiving have been published in The New York Times, the blog This Land is Ours — which gives an excellent overview of the history of the Thanksgiving holiday — and scholarly journals found in databases such as JSTOR.
Now all we have to do is reject the holiday and replace it with a living memorial to the dead.
Who else also rejects Thanksgiving?