It’s the 400th anniversary of that annual American rite, Thanksgiving.
As anyone who knows any history is aware, there is nothing sacred about the day – the fourth Thursday in November.
In fact, it was changed from the last Thursday to the third Thursday in 1939.
There is also nothing particularly sacred about how Thanksgiving is celebrated.
As others, not least the NYT’s ‘Morning’ newsletter have noted, Thanksgiving has had a shifting appearance – both as a word and as a state of mind from 1851. The paper’s first reference to Thanksgiving was not to the November holiday we now know, but to an October 4 “appropriate prayer and thanksgiving” delivered by a priest at the opening of an agricultural exhibition. Some seven weeks later, the governor Massachusetts declared the last Thursday of November “a day of public thanksgiving and praise” in the absence of a national holiday.
It was Abraham Lincoln who made a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863, a year of continuing tribulation for the country. Some 80 years later, FDR tried to use Thanksgiving as an economic stimulus by moving it to a week early.
All of which goes to show that Thanksgiving is a changing ritual and we can add or subtract what we want to it, as needed.
This is why I think former evangelical writer Chrissy Stroop is absolutely correct to say in her open Democracy piece that on Thanksgiving’s 400th anniversary, it’s time to change the way we celebrate. Americans, she says, “have a responsibility to reflect on the ugly realities behind our Thanksgiving myth, and to do better by our children than perpetuating the same old coloniser lies that we grew up with.”