We associate holidays with a lot of things: with family, time off from work, food, celebration, and travel. But we often forget the history behind them. That was part of their original purpose, to keep our connection with the past and who we are as a people. It’s a lot more than just rah-rah propaganda to keep us paying taxes and joining the military. We need to know who came before and to appreciate their sacrifices lest we lose the good things we have. That’s why it’s important to be thankful, and why Thanksgiving is more than parades, football, and stuffing our faces.
The story of the Pilgrims tells us how far America has come in just a few centuries. That’s a long time to us mortals but just a drop in the ocean of history. The bravery of the settlers, the hazards they faced, the uncertainty that their venture would succeed. They got through the winter, not through bluster or conquering, but by cooperation with the native peoples.
That’s why I love the Thanksgiving story because it shows that, despite the continuous denigration of our heritage, we have at times been good and honorable, fair and just. There’s also the Pilgrims’ example of hard work and perseverance in the face of adversity. I grew up in a time and place with few luxuries and much hardship, but my own experiences are nothing compared to those of the early settlers. Nor were things easy for their Wampanoag neighbors, whose number had been decimated by disease only a year before. Nevertheless, for the next several decades, the two groups were able to cooperate and live in peace.
It’s become fashionable to make the white colonists the villains, especially in light of the tragedy of King Philip’s War 55 years later. But the tribes also fought among themselves; it was their conflict with the Mohawks that doomed the Wampanoags to defeat and obscurity. Without any unity of purpose, the natives were unable to hold their own against the increasing tide of English settlers. There were also heroes such as Roger Williams, founder of the Rhode Island colony, who worked tirelessly for good relations between the two communities and also opposed the establishment of slavery in the area.
As Americans, I believe we should all take some time on this holiday to learn about our history and heritage, and to contemplate the hardships and sacrifices of those who came before us. As for more recent immigrants, such as my family who arrived in America over two centuries later, we must realize that we reaped the benefits of the struggles of the Pilgrims.
Thank you, America!