Thanksgiving is celebrated every year on the fourth thursday of November.
When is ?
In the year 1620, the Mayflower ship arrived from England to Plymouth (Massachusetts), northeast of what is now the United States. A hundred religious separatists and people interested in establishing a new territory were on board.
Upon his arrival, an indigenous leader helped the pilgrims to harvest the land and to survive the inclemencies, according to the historical version. Half of the passengers died from the cold or diseases.
In November 1621, after the first successful corn harvest, the governor of the Plymouth settlement, William Bradford, organized a celebration party for three days in which he invited some natives, according to the writings of the chronicler Edward Winslow. That is considered the birth of Thanksgiving, as a joint meal as a sign of harmony.
The story questioned
According to historians, it is unknown how this meeting was organized, if the word 'thank you' was given and what exactly was eaten, beyond the mentions of deer and turkeys in the writings of Winslow and Bradford.
A documentary, The Pilgrims, from the PBS public broadcaster, delves into the unknowns of the origin of the celebration. Based on expert testimonies, the documentary explains that the pilgrims did not formally invite the Indians to that celebration but that they were in the settlement when the Europeans brought their harvest.
It also questions the good relations with the natives. He explains that the settlers carried the bodies of sick and dead pilgrims to the forest, and supported them with rifles on trees with the objective of making the Indians believe they were guards.
The indigenous vision
Steve Gimbel, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Gettysburg who has studied the sociological component of Thanksgiving, argues that there is a "mythology" around that day. "Because history is written by the winners, we often forget that those who are celebrating are the ones who were really helped," he said in a telephone interview.
Gimbel refers to the extended version that the birth of Thanksgiving was an "act of generosity of the white settlers" with the Indians. "What is forgotten is that the native Americans knew perfectly well how to survive, it was the settlers who had problems of famine," he stresses. "It was the generosity of the people who were already there that kept them alive. So when we say thank you, what we're really doing is thanking those people [the Indians] who were there to help us. "
Since the 1970s, indigenous leaders have gathered on Thanksgiving Day in Plymouth to celebrate what they call National Day of Mourning, a day of denouncing the abuses of the colonizers with the natives throughout the country and debates on the current challenges of that community.
After Plymouth in 1621, the celebrations for good harvests were repeated in other settlements on the East Coast. The first American president, George Washington, decreed in 1789 the first proclamation of Thanksgiving to thank the end of the War of Independence between the 13 colonies and the United Kingdom.
It was not until 1863 that the US government officially declared a Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November. In the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln urged Americans to ask God to heal the "wounds of the nation."
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt advanced the celebration for a week to try to encourage consumption during the Great Depression. But his change sparked a fervent opposition and the two years rectified.
The moral revisionism
"The way we decided to celebrate this is more about how we would like to be than how we really are. When you look at the full story with more context, you realize that we needed a founding myth to forget our slave past, "the director of the documentary The Pilgrims, Ric Burns, told The Washington Post in reference to the proclamation of the Day of Action. of Thanks that Lincoln did. The president defended the territorial unity of the United States against the separatism of the slave states of the south.
Burns argues that the fact that the first English settlement in the US -in Jamestown (Virginia) in 1607- has less historical imprint than the festival with Indians in Plymouth, 14 years later, responds to a "voluntary cultural amnesia that reflects the desire of the Americans to see us as people who shared bread with natives instead of as slave owners. "
Professor Gimbel argues that it is important to know the origins of Thanksgiving because, he argues, a "false story could be used to perpetuate a false cultural image." But he stresses that, above all, the celebration represents positive values, such as gratitude and humility.
The feeling of gratitude
Thanksgiving is a day of intense family celebration, in some cases more important than Christmas. People congratulate that day in advance. The streets are empty on Thursday afternoon. And the ritual of sharing a table around a turkey is part of the identity DNA of this country.
The gratitude in that day continues being an official mantra that vertebra the feeling of American exceptionalism. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, the reference laboratory of the American right, defended in 2015 in an article in The New York Times the effects on the happiness of being grateful. "Rebel against the emotional 'authenticity' that your happiness contains," he proposed.
The tradition transgressed?
But Thanksgiving is much more than that component of reflection and gratitude. It is one of the days with the highest air traffic in the country. The football matches on Thursday night gather millions of people in front of the televisions. And on Friday, which many people take free, is known as Black Friday, the day of greatest commercial discounts.
Professor Gimbel regrets that in the last decade, trade has become one of the "main elements" of Thanksgiving. It refers to the fact that more and more shops open their doors on Thursday afternoon, instead of Friday morning, which prevents workers from resting that day.
Thanksgiving can not be understood without its essential food. 88% of Americans eat turkey that day, according to a survey by the National Turkey Federation. And the animal weighs more and more: in 1960, the average commercial turkey weighed about 7 kilos, while now about 13 kilos, 81% more.
It is also part of the imaginary of Thanksgiving that the president of the United States appears next to a turkey at a ceremony in the White House. The tradition began in 1947 with President Harry Truman. But it was not until 1989, with George H. W. Bush, that formally began the ritual of the presidential pardon of a turkey.