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New look at Thanksgiving

Bishop-Elect Dr. Monterey D. Lee, Sr.

Thanksgiving was a celebration for Native people or Native Americans. It’s a commemorated time of successful harvests and a good growth season. The braves of the tribes would go out and collect things they had planted at harvest time, such as cranberries, sweet potatoes and pumpkin. They would fish, catch crab, lobster and venison [deer], for the celebration and share the food with all the people as a sign of a good year of harvest for their crops and land. This was a three day celebration, but it stopped with the arrival of the colonists. As their lands and resources were taken from them by the colonists (Pilgrims), this day was no longer celebrated. It became a day of mourning and sorrow for the natives for what happened to their people. In 1621 the first thanksgiving was three days long. The Wampanoag tribe did not have stuffing (cornbread dressing), pie, ham, turkey, cake, candy yams, etc. The Wampanoag people were a happy people, caring, and grateful for what  they had. In 1621 they taught the Pilgrims how to farm, build houses, and survive.

The colonists did not know how to farm, but they were welcomed and taught by the Wampanoag people in their native land before they were forced to turn on them.

The settlers left southeast England seeking religious freedom in September 1620, because they felt the Christian faith was not a part of the Church of England anymore. They sought religious freedom, so they sailed the seas on the Mayflower to look for a ‘new world’ and landed at Cape Cod in North America, now known as Massachusetts. They first traveled to Virginia, their initial destination, but after being lost at sea for more than 65 days they reached the shores of Cape Cod Bay.

More than half of the English settlers died during the first winter of 1620 as a result of poor nutrition and housing. The Wampanoag people had lived there for more than 10,000 years before the Pilgrims arrived. 

The Wampanoag people helped the English, but ended up in conflict. After teaching the colonists how to farm and survive, the settlers betrayed them. Many Native Americans were killed by the arriving colonists. The colonists took their land; they turned on the Natives; and they took their women and children, after they’d been taught to survive.

Thanksgiving became a holiday of victory for the Pilgrims. Native Americans would be slaughtered over the next 300 years. But their death has become a celebration based upon what they taught the settlers. A national holiday was established from the slaughter of the Native people.

I know that Thanksgiving was meant to be a day to give thanks for families coming together to express gratitude, to eat, drink and be happy. But let’s not forget what the Native Americans experienced as they taught others how to live and to survive. Their people lost their lives in doing so.

“Give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endures forever,” Psalm 136.

So as you celebrate next year, remember the Native Americans. Eat in moderation. Don’t drink liquor. Be pleasant and grateful with others. Live holy and speak kind words—and thank God for all He has done and how He has kept you in the preceding year.

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