Now when various Christian groups “discovered” these non-believers having such celebrations, they decided that they needed to put a stop to such “heathen” carryings on. To accomplish that, they figured that they would create a Christian holiday to compete with the local celebrations, as they did with MANY other, earlier, non-Christian celebrations. Thus, was born All Saints’ (Hallows’) Day. Although a holiday in honor of the saints was first established by Pope Boniface IV about 609, the feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to Pope Gregory III (731-741). It might be worth noting in passing that many Protestant groups have accepted the notion of All Saints’ Day, although some have modified it to include various religious leaders and ones’ ancestors.
Hence, it would seem, at least to me, that there is pretty wide acceptance of the idea that some sort of ceremony to honor ones’ ancestors has been a part of human religion for a rather long time. There is also, about this time of year, a rather widespread appearance of celebrations in honor of the end of the “harvest” season and the approach of winter. In the US, of course, we pretend that this was an idea which appeared with the Pilgrims of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but the reality is that harvest festivals have been around a long time and virtually everywhere in the world.
My suspicion is that “Thanksgiving” is so widely approved of in the US because it’s a chance to pass off what is believed to be a Christian holiday as a National one. Having studied a bit about the Plymouth Plantation, I think I am correct in saying that its settlers were, at least in large part, Separatists from the Church of England who, in their desire to separate themselves from what they saw as “Catholic” influences within that church, wished to separate themselves in every way possible and completely from the established church of the British Crown, including renouncing virtually ALL religious holidays. The “Puritans,” who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony (near Boston) a few years later, were a bit less adamant about leaving all aspects of the established church behind. The difference, as best I can determine it, however, seems pretty subtle today.
The legend goes, of course, that the “first thanksgiving” was celebrated as a religious observance in 1621 when the harvest had been successful (due at least in part to the assistance of local natives, some of whom were also invited). The idea that this was any sort of major “celebration,” however, seems highly unlikely (at least to me) as the Puritans of the Plymouth Plantation were opposed to most “celebrations,” even of a religious nature. They, for example, did NOT celebrate Christmas except by going to church. They, apparently, did celebrate the successful first harvest, but only as an occasion to give thanks to God.
At the risk of sounding too negative about my ancestors (the ones who got caught up in the Salem Witch Trials), I wish to point out that the people of the (by 1692) united Massachusetts Bay colony did NOT believe in the separation of church and state, in fact, they established a government which depended heavily on religious leaders as the “proper” authorities. They also did NOT practice religious tolerance, as Quakers, Anabaptists and anyone who didn’t follow their rather strict version of “approved” religion, were persecuted by law and occasionally even killed as a danger to the state. They practiced slavery, which was not an exclusively “southern” phenomenon, although it was, eventually, abolished in the northern colonies earlier than in the southern ones.
Their lack of tolerance of “others” was not limited to religious differences, there was a lengthy history of intolerance of the people who were native to the land they “claimed” in the name of their religion and northern European superiority. The clearest examples of this, at least to me, come from a few years later, closer to the time of the Witch Trials in Salem where “Indians” were simply assumed to be in league with the followers of Satan.
No, there is a lot we could learn about our earliest US ancestors. They were NOT saints, nor were they completely sinners. It’s not too hard to look back on what we see as their mistakes and condemn them as somehow less than we are today. Then, if you turn on the news, you should realize that we may not have come so far. We could all do with a little more knowledge of fact and a greater tolerance for those with whom we disagree. That’s why (I think) the First Amendment begins with freedom of religion (which includes freedom FROM religion), then goes on to mention free speech, and a free press to report to us the best FACTS available. Note: it’s not the job of the press to tell us how we should THINK about the facts, but it is their job to inform us OF the facts.
Oh, well, I am looking forward to having a happy Halloween. I plan to dress up a bit, perhaps decorate the house and yard a little with “spooky” stuff, and I look forward to seeing a bunch of costumed munchkins at my front door looking for “treats.” We didn’t have this happen too often when we lived in Sylva as we were not in a neighborhood with many kids. Now, living in a “walkable” suburb we have gotten a reasonable number of “trick or treaters the last few years,” and Bonnie and I have enjoyed them a lot.
I hope your Fall is filled with reasons for joy, whatever you wish to believe about the honoring of those gone before, thanks for a good harvest, or whatever. If nothing else, I hope your trees are filled with color….