As the Pilgrims sat down with the temporarily peaceful Indians, the eternal rays of the fall sunshine touched the scene of colonial unity that had beset the New World. It was a moment of peace that had followed years of tumultuousness between the savage natives and the religious independents roughing it for Christ. The elongated table, beautifully set with the most voluptuous harvest that had ever been seen by the scantily-clad and artistically painted warriors, was anchored by its centerpiece, the moist glistening of an enormous turkey. The Pilgrims and the Indians sat in an alternating order – the origin of the American melting pot – as they joined hands and prayed to God (the Pilgrim’s God, of course). The Indians finally understood that the white man was good. Indeed, very good. When twilight fell and the perfect global moon set over the Massachusetts Bay colony, history was made as the first Thanksgiving descended into night on the shores of the future.
Historians are still undecided as to the veracity of the tale detailing how Wal-Mart offered a DVD player for $5.99 the next day, yet there seems to be a general agreement amongst the learned that the Detroit Lions lost a game. The reality, however, is that the Wal-Mart and Detroit Lions scenarios are just as truthful as the Pilgrims & Indians story told in the opening paragraph.
Myth and legend have permeated American history from the day the Pilgrims neither landed on Plymouth nor on any other rock. Columbus discovered zero of the fifty American states. George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree and never admitted it to his father by humbly confessing that he “cannot tell a lie.” Paul Revere never rode through Boston warning that the British were coming. In 1775 Bostonians were British subjects and thus British, after all. Townspeople would have responded, “We’re already here!”
Abraham Lincoln never walked through hours of knee-high snow to return an extra penny to a store or an overdue book to a library. World War II hero and future president General Dwight D. Eisenhower never saw combat. Both John F. Kennedy (Profiles in Courage, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957) and Barack Obama (Dreams of My Father and The Audacity of Hope) used un-credited ghostwriters to fully author the books that helped propel them to political-cultural stardom and cult-like hero worship among certain segments of the mushy masses.
There is no evidence that the Pilgrims and Indians ever sat down to turkey and popcorn, no evidence that they (knowingly, for the Indians) prayed together, and no evidence that Thanksgiving, as it is today, began in that gloriously fabricated moment. Many meals were had by intermingling cultures. Thanksgiving was made an official U.S. holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, hoping it would build morale for northern troops fatigued by war. Many years had passed before Dixie viewed Thanksgiving as anything more than a northern conspiracy to push Yankee traditions south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Pre-American traditions commemorated days of thanks as celebrations for a completed harvest. They were community celebrations for a job well done, not days of thanks to anyone for anything.
The contemporary idea of Thanksgiving – the one shared by Americans today – is relatively new in the annals of history. Though new, it is one with great value. There is unity in our traditions, even when they are based on stories distant from the factual truth. Truth, however, is important and should be told. It should be told at times when it is most difficult, times when the telling of truth at most shakes the foundations and at least causes irritated discomfort. What is the country’s history if it is not worthy of a truthful retelling to the extent that it can be truthfully retold?