“[Thanksgiving’s] essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers’ holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production.”–Ayn Rand, quoted. by Debi Ghate in Capitalism Magazine.
“Thanksgiving is as close as we get to a nationalist holiday in America (a country where nationalism as a concept doesn’t really fit). Thanksgiving’s roots are pre-founding, which means its not a political holiday in any conventional sense. We are giving thanks for the soil, the land, for the gifts of providence which were bequeathed to us long before we figured out our political system.”–Jonah Goldberg of National Review, quoted. in Wikisource.
“They [the Plymouth settlers] may have contemplated a system of complete religious and civil democracy, or they may not. They may have found their communist practices agreeable to their notion of a sound and just social order, or they may not. The point is that while apparently they might be free enough to found a church order as democratic as they chose, they were by no means free to found a civil democracy, or anything remotely resembling one, because they were in bondage to the will of an English trading-company.”–Albert Jay Nock. Our Enemy, the State. [Italics mine.]
The first thing to note about all these quotes is that they are from people who would all be classified today as “conservative”.
Because our two major political factions cannot be relied upon to agree even about the weather, it is perhaps unsurprising that they cannot reach a consensus about what went on nearly 400 years ago. This temporal distance does not stop them from assuming it vindicated their platform, however.
There is a running argument about the nature of the economy which existed at the time of the first Thanksgiving. The Conservatives hail it as a triumph of the free market, whereas Liberals tend to view it as a product of “communal” sharing. From my cursory reading, it seems to have been a result of socializing the private gains, which is a form of “welfare capitalism”, or “market socialism”–whichever you prefer to call it.
One thing I don’t understand about this debate is that no one addresses the issue of currency. In fact, I don’t know if they had currency, it was probably a barter system, which introduces the question of whether people were sharing or just bartering at Thanksgiving. If anyone reading this knows, please enlighten me.
In any event, the argument about the economics of Thanksgiving is small potatoes compared with the social and philosophical debates. The Nationalists use Thanksgiving to celebrate the soil itself, as Goldberg says, and sing the praises of the European founders of the Nation. For instance, two years ago, A.W.R Hawkins wrote in Human Events:
“When Thanksgiving became an official, national holiday in 1941 it retained its focus on God, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the rich fruits of Western Civilization…
[A]ny attempt to reduce [Thanksgiving] to a secular celebration is a bogus attempt to deny the God-centered focus of this particular holiday. It is also a ploy to downplay the bounty of freedoms and rights that flow to us by birth and are protected by the traditions and cultural norms of Western Civilization.”
The Cosmopolitan intellectuals, on the other hand, will reflect and mourn upon the fate which was to befall the Natives at the hands of the settlers. The late Howard Zinn wrote a good deal about this, much to the fury of Republicans.
For my part, I’ve never been big on dictating what the “meaning” of the holiday ought to be. There are some holidays that do have a specific meaning, but to me, Thanksgiving is a day that doesn’t really have or need any political meaning. But if people choose to invest it with same, I suppose there’s nothing to be done about it.