Thanksgiving Blues

Abraham Lincoln

Today we meet for Thanksgiving across the United States of America.

There is nothing more American than this annual family gathering that takes place in living rooms and then dining rooms across this land.

Weeks before this day of feasting, recipes are shared on cooking shows and in magazines and between neighbors and friends and the art of baking the perfect moist Turkey, becomes the subject of many a conversation.

In a seasonally early supper, Turkey meat is carved and consumed in copious amounts and the Trypotphan mixed with alcohol puts everyone in the mood for some drowsy family time, which at times gets complicated and revealing.

Many Americans joke about how Thanksgiving feasts are obligatory, special and sometimes the most painful meeting of the year. This year it will ring true more than ever. America has never been this divided across generations since the 1800s.

No matter the unpredictability of any family gathering, everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving as it officially marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the start of a cold winter with the new year on the horizon. The prospect of 2020 ending is probably the one thing that unifies everyone with great passion.

The first Thanksgiving dinner on record, took place in 1621 somewhere near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 1620 a small ship set sail from Plymouth, England carrying 102 passengers, mostly comprising of religious separatists who were fleeing persecution.

The Pilgrims, as they later came to be known, dropped anchor off the coast of Massachusetts after a treacherous 66 day long journey. A month later the Mayflower crossed the Massachusetts bay to establish a colony.

The Pilgrims, were the first set of illegal immigrants to arrive on the shores of this land who decided to stay.

Through the first brutal winter most of the colonists decided to remain on the ship where many died of disease. Only half of them survived to see the first New England spring.

When they moved ashore, they were warmly greeted by members from the Abenaki and Pawtuxet Indian tribes, who taught the severely malnourished immigrants how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish and avoid poisonous plants.

In November 1621 after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest was a success, the governor organized a celebratory feast and invited their fellow Indian tribesman to the three day long festivities.

This was the first Thanksgiving feast which started a tradition that is celebrated to this day.

Historians suggest that many of the dishes prepared may have used Indian spices and cooking methods. A chronicler recorded that a few of the settlers were sent out on a “fowling mission” which probably sealed the fate of the Turkey.

While Thanksgiving was celebrated mostly in the northeast in some shape or form, it was Abraham Lincoln who in 1863 at the height of the Civil War, declared it as a national day of remembrance and thanksgiving to “heal the wounds of the nation”. In 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it up a week to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Since then Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

While the original spirit of Thanksgiving was of harmony, brotherhood and coexistence, it certainly did not persist for long. The natives showed the immigrants how to survive and flourish, and inadvertently opened a door to their own extermination.

Over the next century, native American tribes were decimated and a new order was established for those who made America their homeland.

The growing immigration from Europe that followed carved out a new character to this land of unspeakable natural beauty and limitless resources.

The forests were tamed, slavery as a system of commerce was established and then abolished, technology became the driving force behind progress and new waves of immigrants from around the world shaped and reshaped a nation at its core.

When the Pilgrims arrived on the shores of America, they were seeking refuge from persecution. The natives gave them a place to be free. That act of generosity laid the foundation for a new nation to be built.

While a great amount of blood was shed in that endeavor, no matter how many have tried to steer the nation from its founding history, it has proven time and again that immigration is the backbone of this nation.

Therefore, America belongs to everyone who comes here.

Even though it is apparent that America’s wealth and prosperity is created by the ingenuity stemming from the continuous flow of immigrants, immigration legal and illegal continues to be a contentious issue. And every decade “immigration reform” is placed high on the agenda of every administration, partly to buy the allegiance of voting blocks.

The current incoming administration has promised to lay a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who call America their home, but cannot say so with pride.

Even with issues of racism and prejudice, mainly emanating from a fear of a changing demographic, America offers a shot at glory, no matter who you are.

But as the last four years remind us, this character of America cannot be taken from granted. The American spirit must consistently and constantly be fought and won everyday. As the forces that fan the flames of division and tribalism are always present.

With the pandemic raging and people being pleaded not to travel, for many this Thanksgiving will be muted. Some uncomfortable conversations after a bitterly fought election will be avoided. Considering 2020 is not over, and the future looks as uncertain as ever, Thanksgiving Blues will be hanging over the dinner table this evening.

But as Abraham Lincoln attempted to unify a bitterly divided nation using Thanksgiving as a marker, I hope we as a nation can begin to come together in his honor.



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Anand Kamalakar

Anand Kamalakar is a Brooklyn based documentary film director, producer and editor. His latest film SALAM can now be seen on Netflix.