My first Thanksgiving in Germany was a small ordeal. I bought some expensive seitan gyro thing from the grocery store and ate it with a big salad at the little white table in my room with my au pairing host family. No turkey. No family gathering. No pumpkin pie. I didn’t feel particularly sad to not be celebrating the holiday whose mythology, for me, has come to represent the American lie about “our” relationship with the native Americans. But I will admit that I like me a Thanksgiving spread.
I’ve been so entrenched in the American myth surrounding the subject throughout my life, that I didn’t even realize that Thanksgiving, like so many other holidays, was originally a pagan deal that was eventually turned into something else by the Catholic church. Check it:
“The pagans in Rome celebrated their thanksgiving in early October. The holiday was dedicated to the goddess of the harvest, Ceres, and the holiday was called Cerelia. The Catholic church took over the pagan holiday and it became well established in England, where some of the pagan customs and rituals for this day were observed long after the Roman Empire had disappeared. In England the “Harvest Home” has been observed continuously for centuries.
“In our own hemisphere, among the Aztecs of Mexico, the harvest took on a grimmer aspect. Each year a young girl, a representation of Xilonen, The goddess of the new corn, was beheaded. The Pawnees also sacrificed a girl. In a more temperate mood, the Cherokees of the American Southeast danced the Green Corn Dance and began the new year at harvest’s end. No wonder Chief Massasoit and his ninety braves felt right at home with the Pilgrim Fathers on that day in 1621!! Obviously, the idea for this “first Thanksgiving” did not just “pop” into the mind of Governor Bradford as most people believe! On the contrary Thanksgiving, in the guise of the pagan harvest festivals, can be traced right back to ancient Babylon and the worship of Semiramis!” (Source: A buddy of mine. But if you have qualms with the text, I’m sure I can find out where she picked up the quote.)
We probably won’t be doing a ritual sacrifice, but today, for the first time in six years, I’m going to be celebrating with turkey and pumpkin pie and gravy and stuffing—with a gaggle of other expat Americans and an even bigger gaggle of Dutch people along for the ride in Tilburg, Holland. We’ll drink hot applely beverages, bake a heap of pies, and eat until we burst. Celebration of a fictional friendship between European colonizers and native Americans aside, I love me a holiday that revolves around good food and better people. Here’s to a future without any more colonization and with a lot more harvest feasts.
For the Americans reading… Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? Force yourself to attend stressful family gatherings? Boycott on principle?
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