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Our view: Thanksgiving is a time to start anew

November 22, 2018

Surely for just a short time we can set aside our differences and refuse to let bitterness, anger and resentment divide us from those we hold dearest.

If there is to be such a time, let it begin with Thanksgiving. The very first Thanksgiving, after all, brought strangers together. Newcomers and a people who already had been in America for thousands of years were able to share their bounty, dine together and enjoy each other’s company.

It happened in the fall of 1621, in what is now Massachusetts, where the recently arrived Pilgrims decided to mark their first harvest with a celebration. Their guests were 90 Wampanoag Indians and their leader, Massasoit.

When the Wampanoags first showed up, the pilgrims were alarmed. “We exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us,” wrote Edward Winslow, one of the Pilgrims. When it became obvious that Massasoit and his people came not as enemies, the arms were put away. The Pilgrims offered to share the fowl, fruits and vegetables they had for the feast, while the Wampanoags went out and killed five deer as their contribution. “For three days, we entertained and feasted,” Winslow wrote.

Games were played, and with the assistance of a Wampanoag, Squanto, who could speak English, the deep cultural divide was bridged.

Relations between Native Americans and white newcomers didn’t remain so happy for much longer after that first Thanksgiving. The Indians soon became a minority in their own land, and more than two centuries of warfare followed. We could argue that there still are severe issues separating the two races.

But Americans continue to hold on to the vision of that first Thanksgiving as a hopeful example of how all of us, strangers, natives and newcomers, can pull together to share what is common among us.

By happy coincidence, November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to remember and honor the people who were here first.

Perhaps the best way to do that is to remember their arrival at that first Thanksgiving celebration. The Wampanoags had to be curious, and likely at least a bit worried, if not frightened, about the future. The same was true for the Pilgrims, half of whom had perished during the year since their arrival in the New World.

At the dinner table, though, trepidations were set aside, and strangers learned from each other that there is nothing to fear when people gather together in good faith.

That, we believe, is the way forward for all of us this Thanksgiving.

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