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Reshaping Thanksgiving Into a Festival of Guilt

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For the last 50 years, aggressive elements of the American Left have made a relentless attempt to eliminate or alter our annual feast of thanksgiving. Instead of honoring forefathers, family, and the blessings of freedom, wokesters and America-bashers across the country want to make Thanksgiving into an orgy of guilt.

A recent report in the Washington Post highlighted these efforts with the headline: THIS TRIBE HELPED THE PILGRIMS SURVIVE FOR THEIR FIRST THANKSGIVING. THEY STILL REGRET IT 400 YEARS LATER. This distortion of history implies, strongly, that the Natives of New England and, most probably the whole world, would have been better off had America never come into existence.

In 1970, Indian activist Frank James organized a “National Day of Mourning” near Plymouth Rock to bemoan the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower. Since that time, a smattering of angry protesters rally every year at the historic location to smear the Pilgrims and to lobby for the right to construct a casino near the site of their arrival. (Good luck with that!)

This year, which marks the 400th anniversary of the original Thanksgiving feast, the drive to rewrite the history we teach our children about their nation’s origins has taken an especially hateful turn. A claim that may have first surfaced in the Huffington Post and later provoked a post on Facebook made the following ridiculous charge:

“In 1637, white colonizers turned on the Pequot tribe who had taught them to farm, take care of the land and raise food. The white male colonizers slaughtered 700 Pequot men, women, children, and elders and then celebrated. They “gave thanks” for the massacre they had just carried out. They continued celebrating like this when they massacred indigenous people until Lincoln decreed the celebration should only happen once a year after he himself had ordered the massacre of a group of indigenous people.”

The indictment of Honest Abe, our greatest president, involved an incident in which he actually pardoned hundred of Lakota warriors who had been tried and condemned to death, rather than massacring them, but fortunately, the Snopes fact-checking site has already dispatched the charges against the Pilgrims. Its researchers gave the story a flat-out FALSE rating, noting, “we spoke to historians and learned that there is little evidence proving that the Pequot massacre was the origin point of the modern holiday known as Thanksgiving.”

In fact, the Pequot War (a bloody conflict that lasted three years, nearly wiping out a half dozen new and struggling settlements in Connecticut) couldn’t possibly have inspired Thanksgiving because it only occurred some sixteen years after the Pilgrims feasted together with their Wampanoag Indian allies in 1621 – and that alliance endured another 50 years, linking the Pilgrims with a tribe that had been traditional enemies of the powerful Pequots.

For contemporary activists who have made their own implacable war on any celebration of this nation’s actual heritage, such details hardly matter, given their determination to discredit every aspect of the American enterprise. In 2007, the Seattle City Schools sent out a letter from a grandly-titled pooh-bah (“The Director of Equity, Race and Learning Support”) warning all teachers and administrators that it is a dangerous “myth that Thanksgiving is a happy time,” but instead should be treated as a “time of mourning …a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship.”

Just imagine how much the enlightened Seattle children of tomorrow will look forward to annual, celebratory trips to Grandma’s house to once again savor their annual banquet of “bitter reminders, betrayals and mourning.”

The problem with this perspective isn’t only that it’s not true, but that its impact on present and future generations can solely count as destructive and negative. The idea that you can inspire young people by leading them to look with horror and contempt on their ancestors and the originators of their country, makes no real-world sense.

Personal guilt certainly has its uses in helping to shape character, and the whole process of acknowledging sin and achieving repentance plays a prominent role in both Christian and Jewish tradition. But the sins for which we try to atone are those we ourselves have perpetrated, and for which some meaningful reckoning may still be possible. Young Americans, as well as their parents and grandparents, have certainly fallen short by many moral standards, but it’s hard to see how dubious indictments of heroic forebears from four centuries ago play any useful role in producing more noble results in the twenty-first century. Looking with admiration on those who have preceded us and shaped our world will, potentially, encourage an effort to live up to their example; trashing prior generations promotes the notion that we have nothing to celebrate, emulate or admire.

This issue connects directly with the current debate about emphasizing critical race theory and other forms of America-trashing in today’s public-school curricula. Stressing the enormous progress of the last two generations in the direction of racial justice can certainly inspire further progress, but the false contention that we’re permanently, structurally misshapen as an incurably white supremacist society, only generates the bleak nihilism that afflicts so many millions among our younger generations.

But not quite as many embrace the new cynical view of the Republic as our most ardent pessimists would presume. Despite the efforts to undermine major American holidays – including Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, and the once significantly celebrated Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays (the anodyne and meaningless “Presidents Day” is no substitute), recent polling shows surprising persistence of appreciation of the nation’s greatness and goodness.

An American Perspectives survey from the early months of 2021 showed a majority who agree with the statement that “the American way of life is superior to others, and the world would be much better off if more countries adopted American values.” An even higher percentage (73%) agreed that “the US has always been a force for good in the world.”

Even more surprising, considering the widely reported retreat of conventional religious faith, 45% still aver that “God has granted the country a special role in human history.”

As we assemble for our Thanksgiving celebrations across the country, may God give us strength to continue that role, and to honor our nation’s past while confirming the determination to keep improving on it.


To learn more, check out The First Thanksgiving: Pilgrims, Puritans and the Founding of America. 

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