On Nov. 26,1621, the settlers of Plymouth Colony and members of the Wampanoag Indian Tribe met to celebrate the first Thanksgiving, or so the story goes.
The Indians brought venison, turkey, rabbit, fish and corn. I suppose the Pilgrims’ contribution was the utensils, along with smallpox, bubonic plague, chickenpox, cholera, the common cold, diphtheria, influenza, malaria, measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, and various other diseases for which the Indians had no immunity.
A mask mandate would have been a pretty good idea, in retrospect.
There is no historical record that the groups made this an annual event, though, and I’m not at all surprised, especially where the Wampanoag folks were concerned.
While the historical record does agree that the two groups did indeed break bread together, there is no mention of the event being called a Thanksgiving celebration, either. It almost certainly would not have been a religious holiday since religious holidays among the Pilgrims were solemn occasions, often including fasting. The Pilgrims were, by and large, a pretty austere group.
It would be far more accurate to date the origin of the holiday to either 1789 by proclamation of President George Washington or 1870, when Congress made it a federal holiday.
But it’s not a lot of fun drawing pictures of proclamations or Congress, so the Pilgrim story does provide a creative outlet for kids.
The idea that the Pilgrims’ story is largely a myth probably enrages folks like Gov. Tate Reeves, who embrace every “white people as the good guys” narrative available, even when they don’t line up with accuracy. But I doubt the Pilgrims would be very disappointed not to be credited with the first Thanksgiving. After all, they didn’t even celebrate Christmas in their religious sect.
Historical history in no way diminishes the importance of Thanksgiving, of course. To set aside a day each year to reflect on our blessings and good fortune is a healthy exercise. A spirit of thankfulness never produces harm, that’s for sure. Given the toll COVID-19 has taken on us, pausing to consider the good things we have helps maintain our spirits under these difficult circumstances.
Now, almost 400 years after the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians, we are told gathering in large groups for our Thanksgiving celebrations carries with it considerable risks.
Last week some of the state’s top health officials urged us to forego our normal Thanksgiving celebrations, confining them to those to members of our own household so as not to spread the coronavirus to those family members who are most vulnerable to the worst outcome of the disease.
The experts painted a bleak portrait of what failing to heed that advice might mean.
“You’re going to have a lot of sick folks who caught (COVID-19) during Thanksgiving,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer. “We know this is the perfect milieu, having young folks and old folks and folks with chronic illness around the table — and then death.”
Dr. Mark Horne, president of the state’s medical association, put it in graphic terms: “We don’t really want to see Mamaw at Thanksgiving and bury her by Christmas,” Horne said. “You’re going to say hi at Thanksgiving, it’s so nice to see you, and you’re either going to be visiting her by Facetime in the ICU or planning a small funeral by Christmas.”
Given those dire predictions, the prudent course of action would be to avoid the typical large gathering of family and friends this Thanksgiving.
Keep it simple. Keep it safe.
Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas, comes along every year – but only if you are alive to celebrate them.