Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving: Sukkot Take 2?

We are told that the pilgrims observed a late summer harvest/thanksgiving feast after surviving a truly terrible year. Despite the re-location of this holiday to late November, they most likely modeled it on the Biblical observation of Sukkot.

With one Sukkot behind, and another (Hanukkah) ahead, should we treat Thanksgiving as Sukkot Take 2?

Problem 1. It's a Christian (or at least secular) holiday. It's sort of a secular take on Sukkot, focusing on the food and togetherness, and forgetting the particular blessings, context (instability of human endeavor/reliance on Divine abundance), and locale (outdoors).

In some ways, this is more a problem of the current urban culture than anything else. A harvest festival means less (or at least, something very different) to people who can buy fresh fruit in the local grocer's year round. We are forced to face the seasonal, natural aspects of Sukkot by its very parameters, and try to induce a similar feeling of seasonality at Thanksgiving by eating "fall" foods (pumpkins, apples, squash). Perhaps we should precede the feast with a day of (cold, rainy) yardwork.

Problem 2. Its historical origin myth relies on the destruction of another people.
British and French fisherman, landing in Massachusetts for fresh water and supplies in 1617, brought the plague to the American Indians. Within three years the plague wiped out between 90 percent and 96 percent of the inhabitants of coastal New England... Unable to cope with so many corpses, the survivors abandoned their villages...What the Pilgrims found were settled farms, with the crops already planted and growing, deserted by Indians fleeing the plague. The Pilgrims found it easy to infer that God was on their side. John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called the plague "Miraculous."

James Loewen, "Lies My Teacher Told Me," p. 81
Well, this is also true of the other Sukkot re-mix, Hanukkah. Jews battling Jews, forcibly converting them, triumph of zealotry over assimilation... and yet we cheerfully light out menorahs.
Problem 3. The origin myth includes 90 uninvited guests - expecting a war
The "Saints" or 'Separatists" (aka the pilgrims) suppsedly invited Massasoit, head Sachem of the local Wampanoag tribe. According to Wampanoag oral history, the locals heard gunfire (pilgrims hunting food) and thought there was about to be a war. Massosoit and brought 90 (grown, male) tribe members showed up in the settlement, and stayed for 3 days. Woohoo - some party. (Makes me think of my mother's extended family showing up at my husband's extended family holiday dinner. Shudder.)

OK, that's all I've got time for now. More later.


Blogger The back of the hill said...

I think I prefer the twist that Wednesday Adams gave the tale, before breaking out of the camp.

It gives me a nice warm feeling.

11/20/2007 8:46 PM  
Blogger therapydoc said...

Aw come on. It's about hakores hatov, always a good idea, ze hoo.

11/21/2007 11:31 PM  

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