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Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Thanksgiving means to me

Lately someone asked me how you can give thanks in hard times. Just think back to the  first Thanksgiving.

Do you think that was a pleasure cruise?

More than 100 Pilgrims left England in September of 1620 on a scurvy voyage that was so rough the Mayflower nearly split in half.

It took until November to sail the 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to the New World. By then the snow was falling. The pilgrims were so hungry they had to rob an Indian grave for food.

According to the Pilgrims, they landed on Plymouth Rock seeking religious freedom. That meant among other things, the right to read the Bible in English, hang witches and steal land from the Indians. 

Colonizing the New World was hard work that could give you quite an appetite. It turned out there was more to pioneering than just robbing graves and stealing land. You had to plant something. It had to grow.

By the end of the first year, the Pilgrims were sick and starving. Half of them died in the first winter.

The Indians had plenty of food. They taught the Pilgrims how to harvest maple syrup, plant corn, and smoke meat. They had a Thanksgiving feast to thank God for the harvest. As a way of thanking the Indians for bringing the food to the feast, the Pilgrims turned their hogs loose in the corn, chopped down the maple trees and declared a war of extermination on the Indians.

The Cherokee historian Will Rogers once estimated it took one round of ammunition for every acre the Pilgrims settled.  Rogers should know. He said, “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, they met the boat.”

Ammunition was the most valuable commodity they had on the frontier. After settling the Eastern seaboard, the Pilgrims headed west to make Thanksgiving a symbol of America we celebrate to this day. It is the story of the Manifest Destiny, the belief that God gave us this land.

The Pilgrims knew what to do with it. They cut down the trees and planted corn amid the stumps for whiskey. That was the second most valuable commodity on the frontier.  Once the soil wore out, washed out or just blew away in the wind, the Pilgrims loaded up the wagons and headed west looking for new land. Along the way they fouled the waterholes, shot off the game and spread plagues among the western tribes. This tide of westward expansion bluffed the English, French, Italians, Greeks, Russians and Spanish from sea to shining sea, giving us a much different country than the Pilgrims ever have dreamed of. 

Thanksgiving is a good time to give thanks to the Indians.

America is still growing the corn they gave us. We use it to make the sugar that fuels a fast-food industry that’s got Americans bloated up like cattle at the feedlot.

Thanksgiving is a good time to give thanks to the Pilgrims. It was their hard work and sacrifices that made America a consumer’s paradise with nothing down and low monthly payments that do not start for one full year. 

Thanksgiving is more than a time to thank God for the blessings we have received. It marks the beginning of a seasonal orgy of mindless consumption that determines the health of our nation’s economy. Where we plunge in a bottomless hole of holiday debt, spending money we don’t have, buying things we don’t need for people we don’t like, who won’t remember.  

      Thanksgiving is time to give thanks for the little things like, getting together with dysfunctional family members and seasonally depressed friends to catch up on the latest news about anyone who, doesn't happen to be around at the time.

     Thanksgiving means more to me than a mindless carnival of gluttony and excess where I load my plate higher until I can't eat one more bite of chicken fried fudge, passing out in front of the television, to watch yet another ballgame pull our system of higher education further into the gutter.

Giving thanks for everything every day. That’s what Thanksgiving means to me.





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