My neighbor’s awesome littlest one got off the bus here yesterday wearing a paper Pilgrim hat, at least a hat we understand to have been modeled after the Pilgrims who we were taught shared the first Thanksgiving Day with local natives.
Of course, it didn’t happen quite the way we want to think it happened, with Native Americans (aka “Indians”) sitting down to a harmonious feast with new friends. What actually happened was quite different: About 90 natives led by Massasoit Ousamequin, a local chieftain of the Wampanoag, were more likely responding to gunfire at Plymouth Rock. At least on paper and sadly only for a while, the natives sought to aid their Pilgrim allies against possible aggression from the north and formed an alliance that lasted 40 years before it dissolved into warfare.
The Wampanoag people included two interpreters who had been taken to England and held in bondage before returning to New England. Didn’t you ever wonder how natives speaking English happened to be on hand? Tisquantum was one of the two and is more remembered by the name Squanto.
Our version of the whole legend is part fiction, part fact and a lot of wistful longing for simpler times. Thanksgiving lay dormant until revived by Abe Lincoln in 1863, not long after Gettysburg, as a tentative first step toward conciliation of a traumatized population.
The original celebration and alliance was less a beautiful beginning than a practical exercise in diplomacy that delayed savage conflict for land. But then, as we all know, the Baby Jesus was almost certainly born in March with the Roman Catholics designating the winter solstice as the day to celebrate in hopes of diverting the flock from celebrating the pagan traditions around the rebirth of the sun after the shortest day of the year.
None of the incumbent perfidy of the rewriters of history should allow us to be diverted either from the facts or the spirit of the holidays. When the Baby Jesus was born in an unlikely virgin way that took many centuries to be recognized as official doctrine, that hasn’t stopped priests and popes from effecting a measure of good works in the baby’s name along with some notable atrocities.
And so, keeping in mind the difference between historical fact and spiritual consequences, I always find time in my heart, if not on paper, to enumerate the things for which we here in a sometimes-troubling community can be grateful. Let us say:
1. Jesus, it’s cold out, baby. But with the cold comes the snow, a fun substance we cannot only snarf up for ourselves but might well share with those from less fortunate realms where winter is grey burden. Not only can we have fun and share, as did Squanto and his pals, but we might even see that sharing makes us better persons if not better skiers. It’s Norway island, not Survivor Island that we ski.
2. We have more than enough to eat. Maybe too much, judging from the appearance of things, but it sure beats hoping an army numbering more than our population will arrive and help us get through the winter. Again, there are lots of ways to share the feast. I personally try to drop off some brownies or gluten-free cookies at food drives since those in need are no more inclined to a strict diet than those first Pilgrims.
3. Our traffic problem is just a problem, not a curse. Take a week in any place you really want to be and it’s either worse or much worse, outside of a few Scandinavian countries. Besides, as the saying goes, there isn’t a traffic problem in Rangely or Montrose. People want to be here, and a lot of your relatives are among them, sparing you the need to travel to a bleak suburban sleet festival for the holidays.
4. We have two, count ’em, two newspapers. Even if they don’t always get it right, and they don’t, at least there are two competing versions of reality from which to choose, whereas Squanto and friends were forced to accept an ethnocentric view of reality that accorded them less status than the three-fifths-of-a-person standard of Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3. It was the first gerrymander and before the eponymous Massachusetts governor. Again, one would hope that more newspapers means more reality checks.
5. Love still happens. Ask Jane St. Croix Ireland. Ask the Aspen Times Princess. Life isn’t a Hallmark commercial but it’s not all “Game of Thrones” either.
At least for a while we can perchance to dream of things other than traffic, growth and greed. I know I will.
Mick Ireland promises to be a little more cranky next week in the name of truth, justice and the (true) American way. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.