November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks?

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman 

National holidays such as Thanksgiving provide a wonderful opportunity for us to apply many of the themes related to sociological mindfulness. It is useful to think about the role that holidays play in society, the values and beliefs these holidays instill, and the extent to which we can deconstruct the “facts” and assumptions of these holidays. Consider some of the myths and realities of Thanksgiving taken from sociologist James W. Loewen’s national bestseller, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.

PilgrimsThe origin myth surrounding Thanksgiving.  Newsflash: The Pilgrims were not the first non-native settlers to the United States. The first non-native settlers were African slaves left in South Carolina in 1526 by Spaniards who abandoned their settlement. Moreover, the Eastern Indians, not the Pilgrims, observed autumnal harvest for centuries. Our modern celebrations of Thanksgiving date back to 1863 when President Lincoln invoked the holiday as a means toward fostering greater patriotism for the Civil War effort. Pilgrims were not included in the tradition until 1890 and the term Pilgrim was not even used until 1870. 

The Pilgrims “civilized” the Indians. In fact, the basic hygiene practiced by the Indians was far superior to the lack of hygiene of the European settlers. Europeans rarely bathed, believing it was unhealthy, and they rarely removed all of their clothes because they were so modest. The Indians, on the other hand, were a remarkably healthy people in part because of their hygienic practices. Tragically, this good health was their undoing as their bodies were unable to fight off the diseases and microbes that were brought over by Europeans and Africans. The plague that ensued (which some have called unpremeditated biological warfare) nearly wiped out the native populations and ensured that the European settlers had no real threat from Indians. Estimates of the native population of the United States and Canada before the Pilgrims arrived are around ten to twenty million. Without the plague, settling the U.S. would have been extremely difficult. Most of us have no knowledge of the plague and suffer from what Loewen calls collective amnesia

Interestingly, the Pilgrims believed that they were unaffected by the plague that wiped out the Indians because God was on their side and not on the side of the Indians. That the Pilgrims invoked God as the reason for their survival makes the story of the plague a perfect example of ethnocentrism. Loewen writes: “Thanksgiving is the occasion on which we give thanks to God as a nation for the blessings that He hath bestowed upon us. More than any other celebration, more even than such overtly patriotic holidays as Independence Day and Memorial Day, Thanksgiving celebrates our ethnocentrism. After all, if our culture has God on its side, why should we consider other cultures seriously”?Tgiving

This notion that “we” advanced peoples provided for the Indians is not an innocent lie. It reemerges throughout our history to complicate race relations. We are told that white plantation owners furnished food and medical care for their slaves; yet, every bit of food, shelter, and clothing was raised, built, woven, or paid for by black labor. Today, most Americans believe that we are the most generous nation on earth. In reality, the net dollar flow from almost every Third World nation runs toward the United States.

Thinking sociologically, why do you think we use holidays to reaffirm these myths?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Giving Thanks? :


And now its time for a reality check on the issues.

The Indians did not have one nationwide system with established rules pertinent to every person here.
There were tribal units - many of which had already been warring and killing each other to take different territories. So why not also mention this?
I was not there - neither were you. Trying to impose politically slanted, modern ideas on the past - for which we personally were not a part of, did not understand the mindset of, and have recently been seeing only partial historic facts revealed so as to slam the nation we became that has been more generous, fed more people, and is seen by everyone except the politcal left as being the most helpful and generous nation ever to exist is ignorant to say the least.

So which Indians would get the land back anyway? Since they would war and take over areas amongst themselves, do we also think they should work it all out and find out which one of them gets it all? Should the final people found (if it coule even be done) to have had the land first then be set up as the ruling body over this vast work they never saw or created (if they even exist anymore).

But then again - this is common sense backed by the historic facts about both sides and not just a select few to be political.

Do the homework or continue being an ignorant puppet.

Enjoyed reading the article above , really explains everything in detail,the article is very interesting and effective.Thank you and good luck for the upcoming articles.

I am looking for some good blog sites for studying. I was searching over search engines and found your blog site. Well, I like your high-quality blog site design plus your posting abilities. Keep doing it.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for please .

Norton Sociology Books

The Real World

Learn More

Terrible Magnificent Sociology

Learn More

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

The Art and Science of Social Research

Learn More

The Family

Learn More

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

Race in America

Learn More


Learn More

« The Sociology of Busyness | Main | Twinkies & Big Macs: Thinking Sociologically About Black Friday »