American actress Angelina Jolie deliberately avoided being in the United States this Thanksgiving. As Rob Shuter of Popeater.com reported,
“‘Angelina Jolie hates this holiday and wants no part in rewriting history like so many other Americans,” a friend of the actress tells me. ‘To celebrate what the white settlers did to the native Indians, the domination of one culture over another, just isn’t her style. She definitely doesn’t want to teach her multi-cultural family how to celebrate a story of murder.’”
I am not certain how commemorating a harvest celebration initiated by Pilgrims and Native Americans can be convincingly dismissed as “rewriting history”. Labeling the relationship between the Pilgrims and Indians as simply “the domination of one culture over another” is not only unconvincing - it’s quite disrespectful to both cultures. Although every century in history has its fair share of corrupt commercialists and unscrupulous jerks, Jolie et al apparently have the Pilgrims of Plymouth confused with a different group of people.
The Separatists who ventured to start a new government in the New World endured an awfully rude voyage across the Atlantic and had managed to survive a year in a strange land. But when a successful harvest took place in 1621, did they praise themselves and their superior culture? Did they thank themselves for all their hard work?
No. They thanked God.
While the first rays of the Enlightenment were appearing in Europe, the multicultural and anti-humanist celebration of the century was taking place in a humble community in North America. While the movement in Europe would play a significant role in ushering in an era of folly and bloodshed (particularly in France, a country Jolie is notably fond of), the movement in America would result in a mindset which would make the American Revolution unique compared to others around the world.
The Pilgrims could not have survived if certain events and certain people had not been placed in their way – and they knew it. They set sail for Virginia, but happened to land in Massachusetts due to a navigation error. There they were greeted by Squanto, the Patuxt Indian who happened to be fluent in English and happened to have returned to Plymouth just in time. The Pilgrims understood these and other strategic happenings to be acts of Providence, for which they were very thankful.
This spirit of thanksgiving that was nurtured throughout U.S. history is a uniquely American brand of a Biblical tradition.
President George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Declaration was preambled,
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…”
President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation which said,
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
Thus, in its origins, Thanksgiving is no celebration of human prowess and cultural domination – and certainly not murder. However, anyone who is predisposed to view history as nothing more than a story of evolving class warfare understandably finds it difficult to perceive the roots of Thanksgiving as anything more than savage.
But a study of the Pilgrims reveals that they believed in the Biblical tradition of thanksgiving – a heritage of exalting and being grateful to God rather than exalting man and man’s cultural and political achievements. They believed that history had meaning, and that the decisions they made had spiritual, Biblical implications. This is why the term “covenant” is used in the Mayflower Compact.
Diplomatic relations were also considered covenantal, as illustrated by Governor Edward Winslow’s account, “We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us, very loving, and ready to pleasure us.” Being spiritually sensitive people, the Pilgrims’ Native American friends were receptive to these ideas. The painful division that eventually occurred between Americans and Native Americans in the United States was a result of political leaders not taking traditional covenants seriously.
While Thanksgiving is not a celebration of hunky-dory humanity, it certainly isn’t a celebration of murder. Thanksgiving is, at its roots, a grateful celebration of the grace of God despite the failings of mankind.
Amanda Read is an unconventional scholar, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn’t been a churchgoer in 16 years and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings. A writer and artist, she blogs at www.amandaread.com and is the author of the historical drama screenplay The Crusading Chemist. Amanda is majoring in history and minoring in political science at Jacksonville State University.
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