Concerning Thanksgiving (The Didactic Express, Day 26)

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving, though I need to spend it marking lab reports in my office. I was, however, able to get a good feast in last night with a number of other physics graduate students: a potluck to which I contributed the salad.

In spite of the fact that Nominatissima and I are no longer in a romantic relationship, we are still friends (and she is, more to the point, still friends with a great many of my friends), so I brought her along as my guest.

Had I not done so, she would not have been able to celebrate Thanksgiving at all, as it turned out, as many of her social justice friends are boycotting the holiday as a celebration of colonialism.

On the face of it, this objection appears legitimate, and I was conscientious of it briefly until I did some research. It turns out that, contrary to what generations of American schoolchildren have been taught (and what Canadians have naturally come to absorb through cultural osmosis), the “first Thanksgiving” was not actually that tawdry affair with Puritans eating turkeys with condescending noble savage stereotypes named Squanto*; this, in fact, was merely the first Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the territory of what is now the United States. Thanksgiving itself, as a holiday, is actually rooted in mediaeval European harvest festivals: this, by the way, is why Canadian Thanksgiving is a month earlier than American thanksgiving: because at a higher latitude, the harvest necessarily comes earlier.

Moreover, it turns out that the first Thanksgiving ever celebrated in what is now Canada was absolutely nothing like the first American Thanksgiving; taking place some thirty years before the Pilgrims came to New England, it was celebrated on Baffin Island by the men of Martin Frobisher’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage.  And rather than giving thanks for a bountiful new land, or whatever, they were rather offering their thanks to God for the fact that not all of them had yet frozen to death. While they had been tasked with building a settlement (likely by some Englishman with no understanding of geography) they did not get around to doing so as the ship carrying the building materials was lost on the ice. It is, therefore, not immediately obvious to me how this can be considered a celebration of colonialism.

Today’s moral, then, is:

Always research what you’re talking about before jumping to conclusions.


*Actually, the historical Squanto was a fairly interesting persona in and of himself, far removed from the feather-wearing, broken-English talking charicature filling-out the rosters of elemntary school plays.

About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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