Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

The Real Meaning of the Thanksgiving Story

On this day, Thanksgiving Day, I think we are remembering the wrong message.   I think our society has taken the wrong meaning from the mythologized story of starving pilgrims, a coming hard winter, and Native Americans who shared.  We give thanks to God, or to some sense of the Universe taking care of us for the blessings we have, even amidst adversity… and yet I’m pretty sure that is not the real meaning in this story…  whether the story is true or not.

Perhaps it is my Native American ancestry that helps me to see this (although my Cherokee ancestors were safely in the Appalachian Mountains, and by this point had likely not encountered any Europeans.)  Perhaps it is that, as a child, I listened to the Thanksgiving story with a bit of unease, knowing what the coming years in the relationship between the settlers and the native peoples of this land would bring.  I know I have always thought that the main actors in this myth are the Native Americans… and yet they are treated almost as a footnote.

This holiday should not be about giving thanks, but about compassion.  It was the compassion of the Native Peoples that saved the pilgrims, not God.  Now, you could say that God sent the Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe, but I wonder if many who propose this would really accept that the Christian God sent such a “heathen” people.  However, saying that God sent the Native Americans is just another way to minimize them.

What happened in this story is that a people saw other people in distress, and felt compassion for them.  They felt that compassion even though these other people were strange, with different and even threatening ways.  These Native Peoples could have let the pilgrims starve, but chose not to, out of compassion for their what does generic imitrex look like fellow human beings.  They transcended separations of race, of class, of culture and of religion in order to show compassion.

Is there a more profound message for our times?  It is always good to count up our blessings, and to remind ourselves that there are others less fortunate than ourselves, though it is questionable to do so with a feast and football.  I do believe that it is important that we spend time at Thanksgiving with our families, from whom we have become more and more estranged in our mobile society.

And… what about the message of compassion?  What about finding a way to see the humanity that crosses all of the boundaries that we create… boundaries of race, of class, of culture, and of religion?  If this holiday loses that meaning, if it becomes a reflection only on how we are blessed, then the example of these native peoples are just as lost on us as it was on the descendents of the settlers.

Thanksgiving is not just a day to give thanks, but to celebrate the example of a people who were able to see beyond such boundaries to share with other human beings who were in need… and to mourn that the descendents of those same people in need were unwilling to transcend those boundaries in the years that followed… leading to the genocide that occurred on our own soil with the decimation and re-location of so many Native Peoples.

Let us count our blessings… but not for our own satisfaction, but to allow us to learn the kind of compassion shown by the Wampanoag tribe… the compassion that crosses the boundaries that separate us from one another.

Yours in faith,

Rev. David

2 Thoughts on “The Real Meaning of the Thanksgiving Story

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on Thanksgiving, beyond ‘UU 101′, and more « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

  2. This is amazing–may I share it with my UU Congregation at a lay-led Thanksgiving service? It makes me consider that compassion is at the heart of food-sharing stories and traditions throughout many religious traditions.

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