Sunday, November 28, 2004

A couple of days before Thanksgiving, I commented on a Fox News story about the way Maryland public schools allegedly teach the story of Thanksgiving. Fox says the Maryland schools refuse to tell their students that Thanksgiving was a religious holiday; as I noted, citing Fox's own source (the Web site of Plimoth Plantation), it's a bit more complicated than Fox lets on: Thanksgiving as we know it harks back to both a secular harvest celebration (what we think of as the first Thanksgiving) and a religious ceremony that wasn't a feast.

Then on Thanksgiving Day I saw this article in The Boston Globe (via The Washington Post). The article notes that, according to some sources, the first Thanksgiving in America was actually in Virginia, in 1619:

... a solemn day of fasting, meditation, and introspection, followed by a light meal of roasted oysters or Virginia ham.

That, some Virginians say, was how the real "first" Thanksgiving in the New World was celebrated Dec. 4, 1619, by a group of men who had just landed on the shores of the James River at what is now Berkeley Plantation, two years before the Pilgrims' harvest feast in Massachusetts.

So you're wonering why most Americans don't know this? Well, among other reasons, there's this:

The South's historic disregard for the holiday as a Northern tradition didn't help.... (In the 19th and even into the 20th century, businesses and state and city offices in parts of the South stayed defiantly open.)


Isn't that interesting -- especially in light of the Fox story. Fox suggests that schools in the blue state of Maryland are showing hostility to religion by not teaching that Thanksgiving was a godly day. But for many years the godly, traditional, and now solidly red South used to reject Thanksgiving altogether. If Thanksgiving is a holy day, isn't that a bit more hostile to God than not telling the Thanksgiving story in what Fox News would consider the correct way?

The Globe/Post story notes that Thanksgiving was first proclaimed a national holiday in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. Apparently, showing respect to God was less important to Southerners, for decades after the Civil War, than showing disrespect to the Great Emancipator.

Then again, you might not agree that the people in Virginia who first had a Thanksgiving ceremony truly had good "moral values." Yes, they certainly made a point of showing their allegiance to God:

In 1619, 38 men, led by Captain John Woodlief, sailed from Bristol, England, on the good ship Margaret to seek fortune in the New World. Upon landing in Virginia, they waded ashore, opened their instructions from the Berkeley Co., which sponsored their expedition, and learned that the first order of business was to drop to their knees.

"Wee ordaine that the Day of our ship [arrival at] the place assigned for the plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God," the order read.

But they didn't show their fellow human beings very much Christian charity:

But the Virginians at Berkeley and at Jamestown -- the earliest British settlement in the colonies -- were a bit more antagonistic with the Powhatans. When the dandies and fortune hunters of Jamestown first encountered them eating roast oysters and wild strawberries on the beach, they chased the Powhatans off and devoured their food, according to local historian Pat Butler.

Perhaps as a result,

By 1622, the Berkeley settlement was wiped out in a massacre by Native Americans.

So maybe it would be just as well if we just didn't bother to rethink the whole teaching-Thanksgiving thing.

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