(Re)Writing Thanksgiving: First Prize

The winners of the (Re)Writing Thanksgiving contest have been selected! Earlier this month petition starter Randy Kritkausky began a search for a modern alternative to The Wall Street Journal’s annual Thanksgiving editorial, “The Desolate Wilderness.” The essay calls indigenous people “wilde men” and uncivilized, and 50,000 signers think it’s time for something better.

Peter C. Hutchinson’s essay is an exciting alternative, and was the strongest submission we received. In it he acknowledges the harms done to indigenous people, honors their historical contributions and wonders how we can make amends and move forward this Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned for an announcement about the runners up!

Let’s all say “Thanks” and then say “Sorry”

As we all know, the concept of a day of ‘Thanksgiving’ has a long history in America. And yet it is not an exclusively ‘American’ idea. Other nations and peoples and their religions have celebrated similarly throughout history. It is said that our history of this event stems from the earliest settlers who enjoyed a harvest feast with the indigenous people they encountered in the new land. People who not only helped the setters celebrate their perceived ‘blessings from God,’ but were ‘blessings’ themselves to the new settlers.

One might be curious enough to ask themselves why would those native Americans endeavor to help these alien peoples who looked and dressed very oddly, as Europeans must have appeared to them. We can only speculate as to the reasons why the indigenous natives chose to provide food, aid and comfort to those who, as it turned out later, chose to be their enemies.

We know their motivation was not Christianity or biblical teachings. Those things had not been indoctrinated to the indigenous until much later, when those who followed the newcomers, both formally and informally, tried to expunge their faith systems. So we can discount that they were influenced by Leviticus 19:33-34 in which the Israelites were implored to help the foreigner and those they encountered who sojourned from other lands. We can be sure that they never read Hebrews 13:12 which states that it is good to provide assistance to strangers for, in doing so, one might be providing for angels. And we can assume they never heard Jesus’ words from Matthew 25:35 where he lauds those helping the needy because, in doing so, they were helping him when he says, “when I was hungry and you gave me food.”

No, it was not this transported religion nor the foundational Savior’s words of the visitor’s faith that prompted the indigenous to help those early needy interlopers. And yet, although they did not know it, the native peoples were acting exactly in a manner that reflected the best of what the Christian faith purports to promote. They were doing all that the divinely inspired words those explorers off the boat were supposed to be doing, and living, and importing themselves.

By lending a hand the indigenous had nothing to gain and were consequently making a sacrifice, both known and unknown to them at the time. The known sacrifice was their sharing of their goods and food with these total strangers. The unknown sacrifice was that the natives eventually suffered from their exposure to European diseases that ultimately decimated their populations as much as armed efforts to remove and/or expunge them. Sadly, the indigenous peoples totally voluntarily practiced the foundational beliefs of the settlers who would eventually displace them. To sacrifice, and even suffer in doing so, is what the Christian newbies were supposed to be all about—at least according to Jesus, who both suffered and sacrificed, supposedly for all humanity.

Truth is, the day was celebrated off and on for years in America until President Abraham Lincoln who, at the height of the Civil War in 1863, issued a proclamation that the day be an annual event. His declaration marked to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November, as a day for Thanksgiving and Praise” to God for all our national blessings. But then he added that Americans “do (so) also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.”

As it’s turned out, the day has become less and less about thankfulness to God, but instead a day of family gathering and indulgence and football as much as anything. And, truth is, there’s nothing wrong with those things. But maybe it would be good and appropriate if the day is marked by thankfulness for the indigenous peoples who, we could say, served the Lord’s purposes when they served the food to the strangers that first day. And maybe it would be even better if we held to and reflected on, with some “humble penitence” the national harm that was soon after inflicted on the natives. Even better, let us begin to think about ways to make amends for those wrongs that we perpetrated on those peoples ever since.

Reverend Peter C. Hutchinson, is a retired Lutheran pastor who, with his wife, now resides near Pittsburgh near three of their four children. Here is Peter pictured with his grandson.

Written by
Juliana Britto Schwartz
November 23, 2021 10:07 pm