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Thanksgiving: Christian? Pagan? Genocide?

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

The holidays and traditions we participate in define the very fabric and identity of our family. They affect us spiritually, culturally and emotionally. Often humans do things simply because it is the way that family has always done them. But when we find within ourselves a desire to be molded like clay into the vessel that the Great Potter desires us to be, reflection and consideration of what is automatic is a beneficial pastime.

The purpose of this article is neither to encourage nor discourage the celebration of Thanksgiving. It is to provide you with information for you to make your own assessment. Social media is full of videos in November with native people decrying Thanksgiving, calling it "A Day of Mourning" or "Celebrating Genocide". It is unfortunate that the younger generations of indigenous people are being filled with hate-mongering narratives of early American history in order to revise and rewrite recorded history. Yet again, another example of how "modern thinking" is destroying the traditional custom of native people to see the beauty in all things, seeing the best in another human being, and to focus on what is good rather than what went wrong.

It is not that we forget, because we never will, but we do the history of our people a great disservice when choosing to cherry-pick what we remember because there is an inconvenient truth in the narrative. In the end, we will share our view since many folks ask us whether we, as a First Nations family, celebrate it or not. The questions we ask when evaluating whether or not our family will allow the practice or celebration of a holiday include the following:

1. What/where are the origins of the holiday?

2. Are there any pagan associations with its origin? (Is this a redecorated event birthed in the worship of a god other than The Creator?)

3. What is the original intent behind the holiday?

The Origins of Thanksgiving:

When examining a holiday to determine if our family should put our stamp of approval on it, we look at its foundation. Is its foundation build upon solid ground? Does it have any grounding in the Word? Does it conflict in any way with living a pure, set-apart life for The Creator? So, let's look at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a holiday of American origin. If you research the topic, maybe you've ended up a little confused. There are what seem to be conflicting reports on the origins. Here are some of the three main pictures painted of Thanksgiving origins:

A. The welfare line for pilgrims. Some say it began when an Indigenous tribe fed a starving settlement of colonists. The Pilgrims, unaccustomed to living close to the land and dealing with crop failure, found themselves next to starvation.

B. The welfare line for Indians. Just for the record, this picture does not hold up under commonsense scrutiny.

C. Others say it dates back to a day when a “Thanksgiving Day” was first proclaimed by the Governor of the then Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. He made an official proclamation to commemorate the massacre of 700 men, women and children that were celebrating Bvsketv, The annual Green Corn Festival kept by many eastern woodland tribes. Another tribe massacred in 1637 was the Pequot. Why is it that a very important detail of this horrific event is left out by native people? Like the Narragansett and Mohegans who were part of carrying out that massacre? That's right, Natives helped to massacre other Natives. The inconvenient truth hurts. (Mason)

If Thanksgiving is truly a day that began with the slaughter of Indigenous people, who would want to celebrate such an atrocity? But we believe the origins actually go much deeper and when examining the historical evidence you will find it did not begin with slaughter or a massacre of First Nations people. It began with a covenant of peace by sharing a meal between two nations of people who loved The Creator. In both historical accounts, we find the Pilgrims and later Puritans being involved in what many historians believe was the Bvsketv Harvest Festival and some scholars believe it was Succot.

Jamestown, VA was founded in 1607 and there was peace between the indigenous people and the new settlers. In 1620 Puritans set sail for a new life and after being blown off course they landed off the coast of present-day Massachusetts. They were helped by Samoset and Squanto who knew how to speak English and taught them how to survive in their new surroundings. Later in the year, the settlers encountered the Wampanoag people. While there is no record of the exact date of when the first gathering took place between the Wampanoag and the new immigrants, we do know that it happened in the year 1621 sometime between September and mid-November. These months coincide with Bvsketv, The Green Corn Festival which is the traditional harvest festival still celebrated by many east coast tribes. This same festival happens to coincide with the biblical Feast of Tabernacles.

“No Christian community in history identified more with the People of the Book than did the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who believed their own lives to be a literal reenactment of the biblical drama of the Hebrew nation,” (Gabriel)

Puritan Ban on Christmas

According to their own records, The Puritans were a group of Believers who were escaping persecution by the Church for their beliefs in not mixing pagan traditions and holidays with their faith according to the LORD's commandments in The Bible. They followed a strict observance of the Sabbath instead of adhering to Catholic doctrine. They even made a public proclamation banning Christmas deeming it" residual papist idolatry" and the selection of the date was merely the Catholic hijacking of a pagan Roman festival. They likened their persecution to that of the Jewish people in Egypt, viewed King James I of England as Pharaoh, and saw leaving England as an Exodus to a Promised Land. They were well versed in the Biblical Holidays. After the Puritans came the Pilgrims which many historians believe were celebrating the biblical festival of Succot. (Klein)

“The origin of the harvest festival in England by the time the Pilgrims decided to leave was rooted in the Biblical practice of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot),” ( Jehle)

The only historical record we have of this gathering between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims in 1621 is from a letter written by Edward Winslow, Governor of the Plymouth Colony. It is this letter that many scholars believe is the origin of the first Thanksgiving gathering.

“And God be praised we had a good increase… Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” E.W. (Heath)

Massasoit (Ousemequin) was the sachem (leader) of the Pokanoket Wampanoag. Things went so well between the Wampanoag and the English settlers that he told Winslow he would return to plant corn to the south of the settlement. This hardly sounds like the reaction of a Chief whose people were massacred or mistreated.

The Indians in attendance, the Wampanoag, played a lead role in this historic encounter, and they had been essential to the survival of the colonists during the newcomers’ first year. The Wampanoag were a people ...for whom giving thanks was a part of daily life. (NMAI)

Bvsketv-The Green Corn Harvest Festival