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Thanksgiving is a holiday filled not only with the joy of sharing, but also with contradiction and irony. In 1620, about 100 political/religious refugees disembarked from the Mayflower, set foot on solid ground, and created Plymouth MA. These so-called Pilgrims, convinced that the Church of England was insufficiently pure, had formed their own churches in England, thereby insulting the king who was titular head of the Church, who in turn put a price on their head. Fleeing first to The Netherlands, they ultimately sought refuge in America. Totally unprepared for their first winter, only 53 hearty souls survived into the second year. Squanto, a Patuxet who had been sold into slavery by the English in 1614 and then released and sent back to America, taught the Pilgrims how to survive in the new land, and also brokered peace between them and the natives. After that first devastating year, they harvested a bounty that was shared with 90 men of the Wampanoag tribe. No doubt the white migrant refugees were fearful, outnumbered as they were, but they also had an attitude of gratitude, and that image of peace and gratitude forms the heart of our national Thanksgiving mythology.

As word of the new world reached England, many who also believed that the Church needed purification but who did not separate themselves from the Church, arrived in America with the purpose of creating the perfect society, as envisioned by them. These so-called Puritans wanted the land without the Indians, and so continued the process of heathen extermination begun by Columbus. Wave after wave of Puritan Englishmen killed, enslaved, and infected the native Americans. The welcomed and welcoming Pilgrims were replaced by genocidal Puritans, certain they were the elect of god and that the savage heathen were not part of God’s plan.

Much later Washington, at the behest of Congress, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, but it was Lincoln who, in the heat of Civil War battle, called upon the whole country to remember the Creator in a time of Thanksgiving, a national holiday to be celebrated the last Thursday in November. The tradition, thus begun in a moment of horror, as brother killed brother, was not changed until the last years of the Great Depression. At that time, financial interests recognized that the population spent whatever money they had during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And so they convinced FDR to move the date for Thanksgiving ahead a week, thereby adding a week to the holidays.

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