The following remarks were delivered to the Un-Thanksgiving gathering at Portsmouth’s Praxeum on Nov 27, 12014 HE.
Today, we are celebrating an “Un-Thanksgiving.” I don’t think any of us take it to mean that we are not thankful, and certainly we have all given generously to the potluck feast before us. But, in the vein of unschooling and other alternative approaches to life, we seek to celebrate this occasion in a way quite opposed to established tradition.
The mainstream version of Thanksgiving goes something as follows… we must gather with our blood relations to eat turkey and a particular set of sides dishes most importantly because ‘Merica! – but also vaguely because some Injuns took pity on some Pilgrims and gave them food when they were facing a wicked wintah ahead.
But there’s a little more to it than that.
For one, the Pilgrims were starving because they were religious zealots practicing agriculture communism. Only after that fateful winter did the Governor of Plymouth Colony subdivide the farmland into private lots, which led to a sustained food surplus within two years. So, the first lesson of Un-Thanksgiving is that if you keep all your food in a communal warehouse, you’re gonna have a bad time.
For two, the Native Americans may not have been as merciful as we are led to believe. By many accounts, the Wampanoag tribesmen were treating that occasion as they would any other feast invitation from a neighboring tribe. Like our Un-Thanksgiving, the Algonquins of the area practiced potluck-style feasts. So they came bearing food, and the Pilgrims just so happened to be in desperate need of food (kicking off a tradition of waiting for a handout that continues in Massachusetts to this day). That is not to say that Wampanoag were bad, just that they were regular people having what they thought would be a mutually beneficial exchange. Our second lesson is that the Natives weren’t angels and the Europeans weren’t devils, or vice versa. People are people, they all have wants and needs, and they all respond to incentives.
And if you show up to a potluck empty-handed, we may let is slide this time, but don’t be surprised if your invite goes missing next year.
For three, Thanksgiving is and always has been a child of the union of church and state. It has roots in the puritan colonies as a religious day of fasting and thanking a “higher power” for his blessings. It continued to gain attention during periods of strife, like the War of Independence, as a way to unite the people behind God and Country. It was finally cemented as a National Holiday by the great tyrant Abraham Lincoln at the height of the War Between The States. The lesson here is to always be thankful for what you have; but if the government is giving you the day off work, they expect the thanks to be directed toward them.
In closing, I’d like to truly thank both the native Abenaki that inhabited the area we now call Arcadia and the early colonists from Europe for forging a unique culture that we enjoy to this day. I would like to remember the many innocents lost to disease and warfare.
And I’d like to toast the spirit of celebration and goodwill that still brings us together in the harvest season many centuries later, potluck style, to fatten ourselves up for the winter!