Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks to Claremont on Thanksgiving for Reminding Us of the Meaning of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a feast, a celebration, a holiday, and a day of reaffirmation of the goodness of man. It is a purely American Holiday in origin (Canada also has a Thanksgiving), a secular holiday without a religious basis, that signifies the best of America.

Thanksgiving is a time for thanks: thanks for our family, our friends, our health, our employment, our education, our country; a time to thank all for all we have.

Thanksgiving is above all a time to quietly share with the family without the distractions of picnics, fireworks, and alcohol that may cloud the other secular holidays.

And even if the sky is a little dark, we can still thank ourselves for being Americans – a country in which hope is achievable, and an African American can be elected President of the United States.

For Thanksgiving, the Holiday, was born not once, but twice in times of seeming hopelessness and gloom.

The first was during the darkest days of the American Revolution when the British Army was methodically destroying the Continental Army under the command of General Washington. President John Adams of the Continental Congress proclaimed March 23, 1778 as a day of Thanksgiving as a sign of hope for the future. And just as it is always darkest before the sun comes out, word was received shortly afterwards of the great American triumph at Saratoga. Independence was won that year, although many battles remained to be fought.

President Lincoln formally proclaimed Thanksgiving a holiday on the last Thursday in November in 1863 during the middle of the most horrific period in American history: The Civil War, when father fought son, brother pitted against brother, and the future of both the young Republic and the bitter institution of slavery were at stake.

But none of this is technically what we celebrate on Thanksgiving. Instead, we pay homage to the Pilgrims and Native Americans for breaking bread together in 1621.

The Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation had lost half their numbers. The Wampanoags under Chief Massasoit, a chief of peace and foresight, and Squanto had taught the Pilgrims how to survive in the New Land. After a bountiful harvest, the Pilgrims and Native Americans broke bread together and celebrated this harvest.

We celebrate a feast between the White Man and the Red Man, a feast which was a rare moment in the history of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries of white settlement of the continent.

We celebrate a time of peace and harmony.

Thanksgiving is not the old kids’ game of Cowboys and Indians with talk of scalping. It is not a memorial of Manifest Destiny, a celebration of the Trail of Tears, or a glorification of the genocide that sometimes occurred. We do not commemorate Wounded Knee on Thanksgiving nor mark the anniversary of the reservation system.

It is a celebration of the friendship and sharing between two races – the best that the human spirit can aspire to.

And yet for this day of celebration this year, a grinch has appeared, or more appropriately, a PC gobbler.

Students at Condit Elementary School and Mountain View Elementary School in the Claremont Unified School District have prepared construction paper costumes of the Native Americans and Pilgrims for four decades and then took turns visiting the other’s school every other year to share a Thanksgiving feast and symbolically partake of the coming together of the two peoples. That is a wonderful lesson for young children to learn.

University of California Riverside Professor Michelle Raheja is the mother of a kindergartner student at Condit. She went ballistic in hearing of the custom and wrote a letter, likening the event to dressing up like slaves with friendly slave masters or Jews with friendly Nazis.

The school board held a hearing, after which Superintendent David Cash announced that the two schools agreed to hold the event without costumes. Little did the School Board understand the power of KFI’s John and Ken, the top rated local talk show in Southern California, the blogs, or even the vast majority of the parents.

The parents sent their children to school in the costumes on Tuesday, and threatened to keep the children home on Wednesday, thereby depriving the school district of a substantial sum of money from the state. Superintendent Cash has received police protection because of hate mail and his fears for his safety.

Professor Raheja, whose mother is a registered Seneca, was supported at the hearing by a professor at the University of Redlands, an instructor at Riverside Community College, and a former Pitzer professor, which made their presentations seem like academic political correctness.

What Claremont did was turn a day of togetherness into another lesson of America – that of divisiveness and bigotry.

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