A Day of Thanks and Giving: Understanding the Truth About Thanksgiving and Celebrating it as a Pagan

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Since Samhain I have not had to time to even think about the upcoming holidays. With the opening of the online portion of my store, The Hierophant, setting up my 2019 Salem area tour (yes, I did say Salem, Woohoo!, and finishing up my 2018 classes I have been so consumed. So, I thought I take a moment to talk about what I have come to rename “A day of thanks and giving”. Let’s start with what is commonly taught about Thanksgiving, then what we know as the truth and why I have renamed it and a way we as Witches and Pagans can celebrate it with respect to others who you may be sharing a table with.

Thanksgiving as We Commonly Know It

Thanksgiving is a national American holiday, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Originally celebrated as a harvest type festival. Since 1789, Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally but did not become a federal holiday until 1863.

What Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World. It was a feast that had lasted for three days and was reported that it was attended by 90 Native Americans (Wampanoag) and 53 Pilgrims. Another reason for this feast was that it was a symbolic gesture of peace and thanks between the settlers and “Indians”, after an English-speaking chief named Squanto, taught the settlers how to survive. At this feast it was said to contain food that had been grown by the Pilgrims by means of “Indian” knowledge. Turkey, goose, duck, corn, squashes were all to have been placed on this recounted table of “gratitude”.

The Thanksgiving Story as We Should Know It

The real story began in 1614 when European explorers returned to Europe with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. In their efforts to capture new slaves from untouched lands, they had left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped capture. When the Pilgrims arrived in the “new world” they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto (who’s real name was Tisquantum) who had survived slavery and knew their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation which was short-lived.

Word had spread in England about the Eden to be found in the “new world” which caused others to arrive by the boat load. They seized land by any means possible, capturing strong young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. However, the Pequot Nation had not agreed to Squanto’s peace treaty and fought back. Making the lesser known Pequot War one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.

pequot_warThen In 1637 the body of a white man was discovered dead in a boat. Blaming the Pequot tribe who had gathered possibly for their annual Green Corn ceremonies. In the early morning, while the tribe slept, armed settlers invaded and surrounded their camp . Upon ordering them to come outside, those who did were shot or beaten to death and those who remained inside were burned alive. The victory was celebrated with feast as a thank you to their God for winning over the savages and for the newly acquired land.

While many Indigenous people and historians, still debate over what exactly happened to what directly led to the creation of “Thanksgiving Day.”, the truth is it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, hell it wasn’t even turkey and buttered corn.

National Day of Mourning

The National Day of Mourning is an annual protest organized since 1970 by Indigenous Americans of New England (although, others have joined in) on the fourth Thursday of November, the same day as Thanksgiving. Participants in the National Day of Mourning honor their ancestors and the struggles to survive today. It is also to educate Americans about the history of Thanksgiving. In an interview, Cedric Cromwell, the chairman and president of the tribal council of the Mashpee Wampanoag, said, “…it was a holocaust, and that holocaust must be shared and communicated so that we ensure that mankind doesn’t do that to each other again”. I found it interesting that he still sits down with his family on the day, but for him it’s meaning is about history and truth rather than the myths we have been feed.

A Day of Thanks and Giving

Although, I grew up under Native influence, we still celebrated Thanksgiving (for my grandfather it was always Turkey Day). For us it wasn’t so much about the “American history” it was more of a way for all of our family to get together, and for football. Not that anyone in family really was a die-hard football fan. It was just the American thing to do, I guess. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I learned the horrible history of Thanksgiving. For me this began the drop of calling it Thanksgiving Day, moving on to what my Grandfather called it “Turkey Day”. I’m still not sure to this day if he used this title because of its history or if that’s how he referred to it.  It wasn’t until years later that I used A Day of Thanks and Giving to denote Thanksgiving Day. For me, it means a day to give thanks to the earth and its bounty and to the people in my life by giving the means of food and good cheer. It also has a denotation of respect and honor to many of my ancestors.

father_knows_best_thanksgiving_1954Now that I am hours away from my parents, we do not spend this holiday together. However, I do spend it with my cousin, who was is the daughter of my first teacher. Although, she was raised within a Wiccan household, she is primary Christian based. Which means we say a prayer before we eat. There have been times when this has fallen on me to deliver. With respect to all those present I tend to keep the focus on the Harvest and family aspects of the Holiday. After the prayer we always share a round of things we are thankful for. The following is the prayer that I have used, and of course you can always tweak it to your family and situations.

Day of Thanks and Giving Prayer

We are thankful to Mother Earth for the bounty before us,

We are thankful to our Father who shines above us,

We ask for blessings be bestowed upon our friends and family seated here today

And to those that are not with us but are in spirit

We share this meal in love and respect.

So, it is, so shall be

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Don’t Forget to check out E. Massey’s Online Store The Hierophant

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