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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Too Bad

As I do every year at this time, I'd like to offer my traditional Thanksgiving poem. I am not the author of this ditty, it pains me to say. It was written by a small child who none of you know.

The Pilgrims

When the Pilgrims came to America
They were full of hope and joy
But there was no food
So they starved to death
And that was too bad for them
Yes, that was too bad for them

Then people came from England to see
What happened to the Pilgrims
But all they found
Were the empty houses
And the things they left behind
And that was too bad for them
Yes, that was too bad for them

Granted, this poem seems to have more to do with the Roanoke Colony than the Plymouth Plantation founded some 37 years later. But the simple pleasure it takes in the cruel fate of the colonists runs so counter to the prevailing sentiment of the season that it fills my heart with joy.


The Pilgrims were, of course, a little nuts, a combination of Christian fundamentalists and Jehovah's Witnesses. As I've written in these pages before, they were Puritans, religious conservatives who were upset about the excesses of the Anglican Church. Such as Christmas. And Easter. The Puritans who stayed in England were a driving force in the English Civil War, which led to the rise of (Puritan) Oliver Cromwell and the closing of the theaters (amongst other things). Remember the Restoration? That was the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England. And that's another story.

The Puritans who came to North America believed that Armageddon was at hand and hoped to establish the Kingdom of Heaven in the New World. They saw themselves as the Chosen Elect written about in Revelations, and everyone else – Anglicans, Catholics, and of course all non-Christians (such as Native Americans) – was damned to hell. In their holy war against Satan, you were either with them or you were with the enemy.

They would feel right at home in contemporary America.


The First Thanksgiving was neither a Thanksgiving, nor the First. For the Puritans, "thanksgiving" was a religious observance, which would have been held in September and would have included neither feasting nor games. The Wampanoag, on the other hand, held six such festivals during the year, from the Maple Dance in early spring when the sap began to run to their version of a winter solstice festival. What we celebrate as "Thanksgiving" was a standard harvest festival, which would have been familiar to both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, and on the part of the Native Americans, would have been held for at least hundreds of years.

Still, it was the first documented harvest festival celebrated by white folks in the New World, and there was plenty to be thankful for (especially considering that the previous winter, nearly half of them had perished). And that's good enough for me.


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