Thanksgiving – Secular or Sectarian?


Boy, there is a lot to write about this week, besides the obvious Thanksgiving Day column. All that talk about turkeys reminds me about the television comedy, the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

Then there are the land grabs by the Pilgrims and Puritans, not unlike what the Republics want to do by keeping troops in Iran and Afganistan. Or maybe that is closer to Peter Stuyvesant buying Manhattan Island for $24.00 in junk jewelry.

Or we can talk about the myth of American History that seems to start with the Massachusetts Bay Colony that America was founded in some state of perfection with no vice, a little like Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel’s perfection being ruined by a recent DWI arrest. Even the puritans drank a bit .

Proclamations calling for a day of prayer and thanks all lead back to Plymouth.  It seems that the 40-plus men who sailed with William Bradford on the Mayflower did not do so well and would have starved to death if not for the peoples of the Wampanoag nation.

Officially the first declarations of a day of thanks and prayer were declared in 1777 and continued until 1784, asking first for God’s support in the war against Britain and second for a successful conclusion to the Treaty of Paris. And that was done under the Confederation of the United States.

America’s great secular holiday may have started as religious based experience. I cannot argue with that. Yet the history behind Thanksgiving as we know it may also be based on myth, or at least a bit of sleight of hand, concerning the original colonization by the British in America’s history.

If one were to celebrate the first true feast of thanks for surviving in the wilds of the New World, one must go back to 1607, 23-years before William Bradford and 33-years before John Winthrop. John Smith, captain of the The Godspeed and founder of Jamestown, identified his complement of able bodied men as “gentlemen,” not farmers. They almost died if it were not for the natives of the region.

The story does fall apart a bit, especially Smith’s relationship with his captor Chief Powhatan and his eleven-year-old daughter Pocahontas. Needless to say, Walt Disney’s versions are wrong.

Why is Jamestown not honored may be more due to the fact that it was the center of the newest trade of the New World? Slavery. Why is this important? Because it was Abraham Lincoln who declared the last Thursday of November a collective day of Thanksgiving and we couldn’t have slavery attached to a day of thanks for freedom.

In fact, almost all presidents have declared a day of thanks and prayers for peace. George Washington called for a day of thanks to celebrate the new Constitution and asked for prayers for the success of the new nation. James Madison asked for prayers for peace and victory during the War of 1812.

Many of the colonies and states prior to Lincoln’s proclamation had their own days of thanks and prayer. Because the Pilgrims of Plymouth were the first to have a known celebration, today we gobble turkey until we are stuffed.

So is Thanksgiving a secular or sectarian holiday? Here is where things get touchy. I have not been able to find anyone who really knows the answer. The Internet is absolutely no help either. One site declares that because Thanksgiving is a “holiday” and “holiday” really means a “Holy day,” Thanksgiving must be a religious gathering.

The Huffington Post takes the middle road declaring it both.

Then there is a Jewish website that not only declares Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, but a Kosher one at that. Unless, of course, your cousin Christine brings her highly prized glazed ham and someone puts bacon in the string bean casserole.

This column really started in another direction. I did not want to give a history lesson. In fact, I strongly recommend that you listen to the “true” story behind Thanksgiving as told by Stan Freberg. According to Freberg, the entire dinner was a political campaign for Mayor Pennypacker.

I wonder if the Republicans will do the same thing.

Have a safe holiday with family and friends. Love and laugh. Work for peace and the welfare of all. Listen to Arlo Guthrie’s song about Alice and her restaurant and be safe.

David’s new book, A Christian Nation? An Examination of Christian nation theories and proofs, is now available on CreateSpace eStore and Amazon.com.

InkandVoice readers can receive a 20% discount at CreateSpace with code 5H3W9SN8.

Return to InkandVoice.com.

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About David Rosman

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com, InkandVoice.com and NYJournalofBooks.com.
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