Happy Thanksgiving!

Peter Wood

  • Article
  • November 24, 2009

The managing editor of our journal Academic Questions has a five-year-old son, Adam, who is in kindergarten.  Adam is the NAS’s window into the world of early childhood education. 

Like all kindergartners, Adam gets Thanksgiving off from school.  Exactly why he gets the day off is something of mystery to Adam. His teacher, Mr. Fiddle, hews to his New Jersey school district’s policy that allows teachers to exercise discretion in whether to explain the meaning of this holiday.  Adam’s  mom met with Mr. Fiddle who patiently explained that because there is “no conclusive evidence that the first Thanksgiving happened and teaching about it would be oppressive to Native Americans, teachers are allowed to touch upon the holiday, or not at all, as they see fit.”

No conclusive evidence?  There is plenty of evidence that 53 surviving Pilgrims came together to celebrate a communal feast to “rejoice together” (in Edward Winslow’s words) in fall 1621.  The details were contemporaneously recorded by the colony’s chroniclers.  Two years later, they recorded the feast as a “Day of Thanksgiving.” 

There is no serious scholarly doubt about these facts.  Our national holiday version of Thanksgiving emerged as these things do out of memories, recapitulations, sometimes fractured traditions, an impulse to valorize the past, and crises that quickened the need for communal gathering.  It is no small thing that our current national holiday was enunciated by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 several months after the Battle of Gettysburg.

Mr. Fiddle, shame on you. The children entrusted to your care ought to know that Thanksgiving is not just a private celebration but a truly national holiday.  We give thanks for having come together through the dark vicissitudes.  We give thanks for the abundance that is more profoundly abundant during lean times.  We give thanks for the blessings of liberty that enable us to encompass and rise above our differences.

And hey, Adam, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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