When I was a kid we made colorful American Indian headdresses in school around Thanksgiving time. We traced “feathers” on color sheets of contact paper, cut them out with small plastic scissors, and then, using Elmer’s Glue, attached the “feathers” to a foot long, 2-inch wide strip of paper that we formed into a circle, glued at the end and voila, we popped our “authentic” Indian gear onto our heads.
The American Indians pictured in the holiday cards and paintings I saw as a child were smiling, friendly people. The men wore leather britches and vests, beaded moccasins and feathers stuck in leather bands wrapped around their foreheads. The Indian women wore long leather dresses with fringe that reached to the top of their beaded moccasins. Their dresses were gathered at the waist with leather strips and their long, black, straight hair was loosely pulled into pony tails at the back of their necks. The women smiled while carrying large bowls of corn to the long Thanksgiving table in the open field.
The Pilgrims, dressed in black and white, looked more austere. The men dressed in short pants and black stockings, wore pointed black shoes with buckles and high heels, and large white square bibs slit down the middle. They wore tall black hats with buckles at the headbands. The Pilgrim women wore white cotton aprons tied at the waist over their long dresses, the hems skirting the ground. Their long hair was gathered at the back of their necks and covered with white cotton head pieces.
I was taught the “original” Thanksgiving was a celebration of a successful harvest, that the Indians taught the settlers what crops to grow and how to acclimate to their new climate. It all seemed so civilized until years later when I began to put the pieces together and realized the relationship between the Indians and settlers ultimately turned into a mutually destructive one in the short run, and devastating for the Indian nations in the long run. The settlers considered the land the “New World,” a country to be claimed, the Indians considered the land “Their World,” already claimed. We all know the outcome of that sad story, as a result of greed and inhumanity, the Indian’s land was taken from them by force.
Like so many of the stories I was taught as a child, in reality the story that supports the Thanksgiving holiday does not have a happy ending. Yet, Thanksgiving has taken on a life of its own and the premise of the holiday works well for me and millions of others. It’s life-affirming to have a day to give thanks. A day to remember all the good people who have come into our lives; some stayed, some left and some were taken from us. A day to be thankful for our families; the one we grew up in and the one we built ourselves. A day to be thankful for the roof over our head and the food on our table; to literally count our blessings and to appreciate our good fortune.
Thanksgiving is good for family continuity as well. So many Thanksgiving Day stories are repeated at the Thanksgiving dinner table year after year and they all begin with “Remember when …” Who can forget the year of the great blizzard when two feet of snow covered everyone’s cars by the time dinner was over, or the year Aunt Jan forgot to take out the packet of giblets before cooking the turkey, or the year the Garfield balloon flew away during the Macy’s Parade. The younger generations feign disinterest but eventually will repeat the best of the stories to their new families in the years to come.
Like everyone else, I lead a busy life and mostly take for granted everyone and everything that keeps me and my life together. It’s a good thing that once a year my world stops and forces me to look at who and what I have in my life and to be grateful.
I hope you have a memorable Thanksgiving Day; one that will provide happy family stories to be repeated around the Thanksgiving table in years to come.