A High Five To History
November 24, 2011 by Ben Crystal
Late last week, the boss sent me an email reminding me of my Thanksgiving-week deadline changes. “Perhaps you could write about something you’re thankful for” was a really gentle way of saying: “Remind us why we don’t replace you with Mr. Livingston’s grocery list?”
Duly inspired, I decided to employ some of the lessons I managed to retain from my days as a history major and raise a drumstick to a list of five entities that made Thanksgiving a holiday, as opposed to “30 shopping days until Christmas” Day:
Leif Ericson and the Vikings of circa 1000 A.D. Long before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Leif Ericson and the boys from Norway blundered onto the northeastern coast of North America — specifically Newfoundland, Canada. As it turned out, Leif and his father Eric were less than honest with the folks back home about the hospitable environs to the West, and the Vikings went back to being the scariest people in Europe. Nonetheless, had Leif Ericson not rowed the longboats to Vinland, our tale might have been very different. There is strong anecdotal evidence that Columbus knew of the Vikings’ journeys. At the very least, the people of the upper Midwest might not have those cool accents.
Don Christopher Columbus. It is hardly politically correct to praise the man considered by every good liberal to be the vanguard of the invaders who raped the New World and its people, but expecting political correctness from Outside the Asylum makes as much sense as expecting wit on MSNBC. Backed by the financial wherewithal of the Spanish crown, Columbus delivered the permanency of European domination of the Western Hemisphere. Although things didn’t work out well for the Spaniards (among others), what kind of Nation would we be if Columbus had never made his fateful voyage? The Vikings might have returned, and my name would be Sven. Still, Columbus’s establishment of sea-lanes between Old World and New set the stage for later visitors and the United States. Thanks, Chris.
The Patuxent Indians. The Patuxent Indians were a tribe local to the New England coastal regions. Tisquantum — known to the kids in the third grade Thanksgiving pageant as “Squanto” — was one of the few (possibly only) Patuxent who survived the early 17th century plagues that gave white men the sniffles and red men a one-way ticket to the happy hunting grounds. Tisquantum held the Pilgrims’ hands in those early days. In return, the Pilgrims opened the door to the endless wave of settlers who wiped tribes like the Patuxent off the planet. We got North America, but we let them keep some of the really crappy parts. Don’t mistake this for a genocidal, white-eyed rant. I never handed anyone a smallpox-infused blanket. The Indians were brutal before we showed up; we were just more efficient about it. And should you count the take at the Mohegan Sun Casino’s blackjack tables, revenge is theirs. Nonetheless, thanks. Sorry about the leptospirosis.
The Pilgrims/Puritans. Thanksgiving Day is their day, after all. In the interest of the sort of historical accuracy no longer offered in government schools, I should tip my hat to King Charles I of England. Chuck was a devotee of the divine right of kings, an attitude which the Puritans found less than godly. He persecuted them mercilessly, inspiring them to board the Mayflower, sail West, survive with considerable assistance from the locals and ultimately found the Massachusetts Colony and some lovely country clubs. They received a lot of help, but they made it. Without them, the Eastern half of the United States would be New France. We’d be eating pommes frites. Thank you, Puritans.
Almighty God. Barring His Divine guidance, this entire piece would be either moot or written in German. At the dawn of the Age of Exploration, Europe was a miserable place. The Black Plague had done to the people of the continent what smallpox and cholera were about to do to the Native Americans. The major religious influences had strayed far from His Word. The Old World was positively Hobbesian; life was indeed “nasty, brutish and short.” But the aforementioned hardy souls braved the unknown and discovered the other side of His incredible creation. And they gave thanks to Him, a worthwhile tradition I join you in continuing today.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.