Thanksgiving and the quest for justice and peace in the midst of injustice


Day of recognition in various countries of the New World especially, Thanksgiving is known under its American variation. This Thursday, like every fourth Thursday of November, the United States is living this day of thanksgiving that has become secular by commemorating a feast associating the Pilgrim Fathers and the Wampanoag Indians, in 1621 in Massachusetts.

If celebrations of recognition on the soil of the future United States had already taken place in Virginia as early as 1607, it was Thanksgiving of 1621 that marked the American imagination. When the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth in 1620, Massasoit, the chief of the plague-stricken Wampanoags, offered the newcomers an alliance for protection from their Narragansett enemies. At least two of them already spoke English, and the tribe had already fought Europeans. As part of this alliance, the Wampanoags supported the settlers to prevent them from perishing for lack of food. The English then invited more than 90 Indians to a banquet and games organized for three days, while traditionally Thanksgiving was celebrated with fasting and prayer. They came with food.

A Thanksgiving extended by justice and a tool of national unity before God

The alliance has sparked many myths denounced by historian David J. Silverman, in particular that of disinterested help. The historian recalls that misunderstandings about land purchases, when the Wampanoags did not understand the concept of purchase and thought they were being robbed, but also real land scams, led to a violent conflict, King Philip's War. , from the nickname of Metacom, the son of Massasoit. Today Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for the Wampanoag.

However, the settlers of the colony of Plymouth with whom the tribe had established an agreement had the opportunity to show their good intentions at first, before other English people arrived, occupying more and more land. Among the latter, three men without morals were implicated in 1638 in the murder of an Indian with a view to robbing him. He was able to get up to return to his village and witness to his family and pilgrims, the three culprits were identified, tried and hanged by the settlers. The Indians were invited to watch the execution, so that they could see that their lives mattered as much as those of the English. If the motivation of the authorities was not devoid of political interests, the will to render justice was nonetheless present, the Puritans believing in the equal dignity of each human life.

It was on October 3, 1789 that President George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving, before iterating the initiative six years later. Two of his successors, John Adams and James Madison proclaimed three Thanksgiving celebrations between 1798 and 1814. Since a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, Thanksgiving has been a federal holiday observed every last Thursday in November.

Just as the banquet of 1621 had strengthened the alliance between settlers and Wampanoags, Lincoln used its memory to soothe the wounds after the Civil War. Encouraged by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, the President proclaimed the last Thursday in November 1863 as the day when God would be thanked "as with one heart and one voice by all the American people", making an abolitionist northern party a celebration for the whole federation.

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: Shutterstock/

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Summary of news from October 3, 2023

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