While our tradition taught us to celebrate Thanksgiving as a time to share food and fun with our closest and loved ones, knowing how it originates will remind us of the systemic racism and oppression that Native Americans have experienced in the United States of America. The first Thanksgiving Day occurred in 1621 when English Pilgrims and local Native Americans gathered for a celebratory meal in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Sadly, peace between the English settlers and the Native Americans did not last long after this famous holiday, as the two peoples were embroiled in a bloody war a generation later.
But it should have little to do with this gathering of two peoples for a celebratory meal and more to do with America’s triumph against slavery. Thanksgiving Day should remind us of the much more important things that this tradition wants to convey to us in the modern world; that the modern generation of Americans should be able to demonstrate how they can maintain and renew their traditions. It should also, most importantly, remind the modern generation of Americans of their ancestors’ promise of freedom and how they can use it to further the cause of ending the taint of slavery.
The first Thanksgiving was officially declared a National Day of Thanksgiving by President Abraham Lincoln in October 1863, just after the Battle of Gettysburg, to celebrate the Union’s victory in the Civil War, although the famous holiday was first observed in 1671 between Native Americans and English settlers. Lincoln, in his proclamation, was quoted as saying that it was fitting that the country should give thanks for success in a war that would eventually mean a great increase in freedom.
Lincoln’s most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, speaks of the Declaration of Independence that created an America that was dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal. Lincoln was so hopeful that the Civil War would bring with it a new birth of freedom for those for whom the promises of the declaration had not yet been fulfilled, because he knew from that moment that the ideal was yet to be realized.
Thanksgiving Day has become, and should be, a celebration of the battle against slavery; that the modern generation of Americans who rejoice in the day must find time to remember the sins of their nation. However, most Americans can remember that their nation was founded on an incomparable ideal, which promised the expansion of freedom to ever greater numbers of people. There is much to be thankful for, especially when Americans can work together to achieve that ideal, although it will not be an easy task.
For the successes and struggles we have all endured along the way together as a people and a nation, Happy Thanksgiving!