You can tell a lot about a person by their favorite holiday. If it’s Halloween then you’re probably pretty fun. New Years means you probably like to party. If it’s Passover then you’re probably Jewish. Columbus day is a big red flag. Recently, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what my favorite holiday says about me. I know it’s a big coincidence considering this blog is about Cape Cod, but my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. 

The Thanksgiving table from 2019 (BEFORE COVID WE DIDNT HAVE AN IN-PERSON 2020 THANKSGIVING)

Kinda like Columbus Day, this holiday is a bit of a red flag. Though it’s not criticized as much as Columbus Day, Thanksgiving is often viewed in a negative light for similar reasons: the brutal, inhumane, and reprehensible treatment of the indigenous population of the American continent in the centuries succeeding Columbus’s arrival in the United States. Thanksgiving is no outlier in this pattern of genocide.

In schools, children are taught a myth about a peaceful feast in Plymouth, just across the bridge, which was shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. Oftentimes this is taught in an incredibly offensive manner- I remember being told to wear a headdress while the other half of the class wore buckle hats sometime in 2nd or 3rd grade. If you couldn’t tell from the fact that I run a blog based on Cape Cod or the fact that my name is Dillon Patrick McCarthy, I am white and have absolutely no business wearing a headdress.

The actual historical happenings of the first Thanksgiving are debated. Some say it did happen, some say it didn’t. I’m not a historian and it would be irresponsible for me to claim to be one so I will only mention provable and verifiable facts. The Pilgrims came to Provincetown in 1620 before they decided that they hated it so much that they got back on the boat to sail to Plymouth. Brief tangent, they had been on a crowded boat for like over a month with stale food and dirty water. Two people died. But they finally hit land and hate it so much that they then GET BACK ON THE BOAT? Do you know how much Provincetown would have had to suck to get them back onto that boat? Kinda makes you wonder whether we really deserve to have that big monument. 

The Pilgrim Monument, placed in Provincetown to commemorate the fact that the Pilgrims landed in Provincetown before reaching Plymouth

Anyways, the first Thanksgiving supposedly happens in 1623. Around ten years later in the 1630s, “the Pequot were blamed for the killing of a white man, leading to the colonizers burning down Pequot villages and killing those who did not perish in the fires. Hundreds of Pequots were killed, leading Governor Bradford to proclaim that Thanksgiving from then on would be celebrating ‘the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.'” source

Few things about that. First off, there are streets named after Governor Bradford. There’s a restaurant named after him. It’s in that one town that’s apparently so awful that the pilgrims, after spending over a month on a cramped boat with stale food and dirty water, decided to get back on that boat just to sail away from it. Is that really the type of guy we wanna name stuff after? And also, this was only like ten years after the supposed first Thanksgiving. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but I am saying that if it did happen then within a decade their way of celebrating the holiday went from breaking bread with indigenous populations to burning their villages and killing the survivors. Either way, not a great look for the holiday.

The history of indigenous suffering at the hands of white people, both colonizers and the children of colonizers that eventually became known as Americans, exists and should not be ignored. Unfortunately, as shown by the headdress incident, it all too often is. The way that we teach American History in this country has to change, perhaps shown by nothing other than the fact that I only learned about the massacre of the Pequot when doing research for this blog post and never before in all my years of schooling. 

Now after having said all that, having shown my ignorance to both the indigenous experience in America as well as indigenous history, having expounded on the horrific origins of Thanksgiving, and even having admitted to wearing an unbelievably offensive article of clothing (which is also, by the way, completely unrelated to the specific indigenous tribe being discussed), one might think that I have absolutely no right to argue in favor of celebrating a holiday like Thanksgiving. And in thinking so, one would be so very very very correct. 

As I have just attempted to prove, there are many reasons why celebrating Thanksgiving can make many people uncomfortable. Maybe, due to the criminally poor historical education that most Americans receive on the subject, you’ve only just learned the reasons why celebrating Thanksgiving might make some folks uncomfortable including yourself and just about anyone with empathy. I apologize if reading this post makes you uncomfortable at your next Thanksgiving.

Then again, most people are always uncomfortable at Thanksgiving anyways. Everyone likes to say that seeing family is nice but that’s because you usually get to pick which family members you wanna see at any given time. Not on Thanksgiving. Though your typical Thanksgiving celebration won’t include all your family members, it always seems to have the worst ones. The host who is really passive aggressive about who won’t help them in the kitchen. The cousin who spends a lot of time on really weird internet forums. The uncle who has a lot to say about the current Vice President. Some way or another, Thanksgiving is going to get ruined. 

Perhaps when all the baby boomers die off and sane people get to make the decisions we should change Thanksgiving. Maybe we should just rebrand Thanksgiving like they did with Indigenous People’s Day. Maybe we should just let it go all together. I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone. 

But at the end of the day, I still think that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I know when I say that after everything I’ve already said I sound disingenuous and hypocritical. I know that saying Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday makes me sound like a guy who wears sunglasses in the front seat of his Dodge Ram in his social media profile pictures, has a sign that says “In this House we Stand for the Flag and Kneel for the Cross” in the dining room, and would rather stay at home and watch the Pats game than visit his dying mother in the hospital. In short, I know that sounds very republican of me, and for that impression, I apologize. 

Some of the pies that me, my sister, cousin, and mother made for Thanksgiving

I know that my love of Thanksgiving comes from a very privileged place. I’m privileged enough to not have a poultry allergy. I am privileged enough to have a family that doesn’t make the holiday a social nightmare. I’m privileged enough to not be a victim of generations of hatred, abuse, exploitation, and genocide. If you are not as privileged as I am (and I am VERY privileged) and thanksgiving isn’t for you then more power to ya. I hope you come up with something better. 

Until that day, I  will thoughtfully celebrate Thanksgiving. Not Governor Bradford’s Thanksgiving of murder nor the Christian Thanksgiving of worship. Rather, a Thanksgiving in the literal sense of the word. One of the last holidays (shout out to Labor Day and Earth Day) that isn’t all about buying things but rather is about being thankful for what you have and giving that thanks to the people you love. Spending time with those people, whether they’re your biological family or not. 

This year, I urge you to give thanks in the form of a donation to one of the many Indigenous Mutual Aid Groups in this country, many of which are listed at https://www.indigenousmutualaid.org/directory/

Thank you. 

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