Thursday, November 15, 2012

About Thanksgiving: Do We Really Get It?

"Thanksgiving is celebrated at the expense of Native Peoples who had to give up their lands and culture for America to become what it is today." ~ Linda Coombs, Aquinnah Wampanoag ~

For many, the word “Thanksgiving” conjures up the memory of a comforting aroma of a turkey roasting in the oven blended with pumpkin bread, cranberries, homemade pies, winter squashes, and family and friends gathered around a candlelit table.

Now there is a fanatical obsession with “Black Friday”, which has become another tradition that has merged with the Thanksgiving holiday, kicking off the Christmas extravaganza. Do we really get it?

I trace my ancestry back to the founding families of Massachusetts Bay Colony. I have visions of Richard Pettingell and his brother-in-law John Ingersoll making their rounds in Salem Village, keeping a watchful eye on the residents to make sure that they do not break the Sabbath rules. If these rules are broken the perpetrator will go to the stockades; which type of stockade depends upon the severity of the crime.

Richard was also a ‘grand juryman of the Ipswich Tryalls’. It took me a while to pinpoint the exact purpose of these trials. I finally discovered that it was more of the same as when he lived in Salem. He enforced the law against Sabbath violators.

In an attempt to figure out how I could possibly have blossomed from the same family tree as church cops and then later accusers of witches in Salem (through my Ingersoll line); I devoted an entire semester study at Vermont College to the Puritans and their chaos.

This comprehensive study enabled me to connect the dots. The information provided in the above link is straight from the Pettingell Genealogy Book. My grandfather is listed in this book and I can easily trace my lineage back to Richard (My twelfth Great Grandfather).

This era in my own personal history was a major ‘peeling of the onion’ event. In addition to my previous research in Civil War Musicology necessary for historically accurate performances as a reenactor; I discovered my Abenaki roots.

However it was the fact that there were so many religious persecutors in my ancestry that invited me to delve into the principles of Puritan Theology, leading me back to ancient wisdom – to the unknown world of Gnosticism.

As I peeled back each layer of the onion, there was another layer waiting to be torn away to reveal more truth. There were almost too many roads to choose from. It took a great deal of patience, stillness and time investment to continue on this journey.

This was a time of fully realizing that history as I knew it was not at all what took place. The delightful story of pilgrims sitting around happily sharing a feast with the Native Americans is equal to the tooth fairy leaving a quarter under my pillow when I was six years old.

It’s a nice story, but tweaked all the same. If it was a friendly event; what happened next? What happened before? Was there a time out from raping, pillaging, killing and deceiving, to rip off a drum stick and share stories around a fire?

What opened my eyes?
A while ago I was a trumpeter and I managed a British Brass Band. We were hired to perform in a rather large, televised performance in Plymouth Massachusetts: the “Annual American’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration”. We participated with Massed Bands as the brass band part of a Scottish Military Tattoo and Highland Fling. We had done this before at the Highland Games and were becoming well-known for this type of collaboration.

There were Highland Pipes and Drums, Scottish Dancers and Singers as well as a handful of other performers from the Washington DC area. We worked hard to prepare for this event; learning special music, making, issuing and wearing the proper New England tartan on our hats, planning the logistics of travel and pay.

When we drove up to the hall where we were to perform, I spotted a crowd of people dressed in Native American regalia carrying signs. While collecting my music gear from the vehicle, I bothered reading their signs. They were in protest of the celebration of Thanksgiving which depicts a celebration purely from the white man’s perspective.

Some people in the area grumbled and continued on. I stopped to think. What is this really about?

Of the years that I spent as the manager of this band and others, this was the first time we were stiffed. I was disappointed and had to break the news to the other twenty six players in the band who had given up an entire day, traveled to Plymouth and delivered an exquisite performance. According to my friend, colleague and Master Piper with whom I worked; no one was paid - the contract was broken (so much for integrity).

From that day forward, it became important for me to comprehend the events that took place prior to and around the first American Thanksgiving. I understand that the Pilgrims would have starved or fared much worse had the “Indians” left them on their own to face a harsh winter.

It was the good will, trust and compassion of the Native Americans that carried the Pilgrims through this rough spot. After the Native Americans died (in large numbers) from diseases carried by European and English settlers who took over their land, stripped them of their spiritual beliefs and forced them into Christianity; we cling to a story based on love, sharing and reciprocity. Oh how I wish it were true.

I read a local book written in the mid 1800’s that carefully described the bounty system for Indian scalps that could be brought to Boston. The book also described Native Americans as savages. I think there was an identity crisis. What say you?

So…I continue to peel back the layers and have come to know the core. Giving thanks is multi-dimensional. Do we save it all for one day and then rush out to buy more stuff? Do we praise and give thanks for the massive discounts at Wal-Mart and Target, lining the pockets of the filthy rich corporations that manufacture their goods overseas in sweat shops?

It’s all good. If you don’t have the funds you can put it on a credit card (save 10% by applying right there on the spot) or you can put it on lay away and figure out how to get it later. That is who we’ve become. Even in the midst of our economic crisis; we can’t buy enough. When will we learn that the cost of our stuff is paid for with small soul increments?

We can’t rewind. The past is back there where it will stay. However, the past informs the future, if we choose to awaken. We cannot take ownership of the actions of those who came before us, but we do have the ability to accept what is true, honor it and be the change.

How do we do it? We can begin by giving thanks, acknowledgment and love to the memory of the sacrifice made by the Native Americans in spite of immense betrayal. Celebrate the fruits of our labor – the harvest (from earth, heart and soul). Give thanks for abundance of the land and learn more about sustainability, responsible action regarding Our Mother and all of life. Find your tribe. Through sharing, bartering and buying locally, we strengthen our communities and we become strong and we evolve.

I am very traditional and will admit that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I do not base my Thanksgiving story on the perfect illustrations provided in my fourth grade history book. I am a farmer and historian with a passion for folklore, cooking and preserving the harvest. This is a way of life. As a wildcrafter, I am equally thankful for the wild harvest, which is incorporated into my life each day. It is vital to gather with loved ones to give thanks, celebrate and expand our circle of love and to count our blessings always.

See how your life transitions when you are grateful every day; when Thanksgiving is a way of life.
Journal: Sage


  1. Forgive me for asking.... but would you tell me what you thought of those Miracle Whip commercials released about a year ago? Having recently discovered my Puritan roots, they made me howl with laughter.

  2. Hi Maryjane, On NPR this morning I heard a book review entitled "The Great Agnostic", a biography about Robert Green Ingersoll, whom I confess I had never heard of before this morning. When I heard the name, I thought of you and your post. If he is perhaps descended from the Ingersolls of Salem, then they have come round full circle. Anyway, it looks like a great read. Hope you're well and can return to your marvelous "Etched in Granite" writings soon. Cheers,


  3. Hello, M.
    I regret that I did not get this comment until now when I re-formatted my blog! I am back to making entries here and "Etched in Granite" was released as an e-book last spring. I've been very busy and look forward to getting back into the flow of writing my blogs.
    I will look up Robert Green Ingersoll. I am curious as well.

    Maryjane (Mj)
    PS - Here is the link to my facebook page for Etched in Granite: