Fall is a difficult time of year for secular holidays. Fortunately, Columbus Day has all but disappeared as anything other than an embarrassment, as it is hard for any decent and rational human being to regard Columbus as anything more than an opportunist and all around awful person. Veterans Day is also somewhat problematic. What began as Armistice Day, a celebration of peace and an appreciation of the brave men and women who risked their lives to achieve it, has become far too much of a celebration of the military power of the modern state, with too little reflection on the way we, as a nation, have chosen to use it.
And then there is Thanksgiving. As a true “national” holiday, it is not as ancient as it seems. While the celebration of the harvest is about as universal as any holiday can be and, while it is not surprising that natives of New England, descended from the first settlers, have venerated the Pilgrims for centuries, the American celebration dates back only to the Civil War and President Lincoln’s proclamation of a day of “Thanksgiving.” Of course, people love a good story and the story of the Pilgrims with turkeys and cranberries and friendly natives was such a compelling story.
Well, if there was a first “thanksgiving,” there is little evidence that there were any turkeys involved. Squash, corn, oysters? Yeah…likely that. And to the degree that we celebrate the Pilgrims and imagine a warm, fuzzy relationship between the native peoples and the new settlers, we are glossing over a lot of awful things. Whatever the reason, whether it be war, oppression or disease, the arrival of Europeans on this continent was a disaster for the indigenous people. Of course, there were moments of cooperation and humanity that undoubtedly saved and enriched lives on both sides, but, on the whole, it has gone very badly for anyone who wasn’t white.
The thing is, very few Americans think about the holiday this way. They don’t even really think about it as a celebration of the harvest as very few of us have any connection to growing or harvesting food. Mostly people think about it as a time to appreciate the blessings in their lives, whether it be family, friends or general well being. I don’t see how anyone can have a problem with those sentiments.
As a libertarian, I, for one, am thankful we live in a nation where we can still argue about these issues, without fear of going to prison. It is a time for all of us to be genuinely thankful for the opinions we see expressed in the media or on the web that we may find disturbing or even disgusting. Whatever their many faults, the founders of this nation saw value in the free public expression of or our private political views. Because, even when they disgust and disturb us, and perhaps particularly when they disgust and disturb us, they serve a valuable purpose. Unpopular opinion that is suppressed grows and festers beneath the surface of our society. When expressed and exposed to the bright light of public scrutiny, what is hateful and intolerant will be rejected by the vast majority of people.
In any case I do hope that everyone will enjoy their Thanksgiving Day and find some genuine meaning and value in the time they spend with loved ones. It should be a great time to have a meaningful dialogue on where we are as a society and where we want to be. It is not, however, a time for arguments, accusations and acrimony. (Aside: impressive use of alliteration I think, eh?) You will never change a mind by questioning someone’s intelligence. As long as we think of those who disagree with us as our enemies, we will keep accumulating enemies and make few friends and change few minds.
I, for one, am thankful for all of you, regardless of your politics. My life would not be as rich and fascinating without you. As always, thanks for reading and have a great day!