Acting like we own the joint

Published November 17, 2022

By Lib Campbell

Thanksgiving is a perfectly American holiday. Nothing religious. No victory celebration. Just a time for Americans to gather at the feast, whatever that means. Reflections of Thanksgivings past bring forth memories and mythology alongside pumpkin pie.

The history of Thanksgiving is as much myth as story, told from the perspective of the English Settlers around Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. We have seen the paintings and watched our preschoolers in Pilgrim hats or feather headbands portray a big feast when the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag people to a three-day celebration of the bountiful harvest. The bounty of the harvest was due to the advice of the Native Americans who had fished and hunted the land for eons.

Thanksgiving was made a National Holiday by Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863.

The stories of families at Thanksgiving are both legion and legend. The Thanksgiving table is the place where adult children reveal their teenage mischief to their parents. Stories of skipping school, toilet papering friends’ houses, and smoking a few cigarettes at the local pool hall.

Grandaddy Stroud died on Thanksgiving Day 1954. Mr. Williams found him on the bank of Contentnea Creek where he had been fishing that morning. Thanksgiving stopped as the whole family shifted into grief.

Thanksgiving tables have to be navigated carefully these days. There are so many differing ideologies within the same family. It’s a good thing the Macy’s Parade and football are on TV. They are safe diversions.

For many Native People the myth of Thanksgiving does not tell the whole story. For some, Thanksgiving is a “reminder of the oppression experienced by those who were here first.” We have white-washed the honest truth of what the first thanksgiving meant for native people who were being removed, disappeared, and killed off by disease brought in by settlers. Eighty to ninety percent of native populations who did not have immunities died.

The English Settlers came to the New World to escape persecution. As the English population grew and more land was taken, conquest was more the game. We tend to act as if we own the joint and take possession just because we have the power to push people around. It’s an early version of the America First priority. Who was it that said, “possession is nine tenths of the law?”

Migration has existed among us since the beginnings of time. Reading the Old Testament is like reading today’s news when it comes to understanding the drivers of migration. Famine. War. People seeking safety, food, shelter and a better life. Thanksgiving and gratitude are the only response for the goodness that comes our way. And yet, migration from Central America is met with anything but thanksgiving. We are eager to build walls and separate families. We treat immigrants as if we are the only ones who deserve the good life. We weren’t even the first ones here on this soil. The land on which we stand has been occupied before.

We have a hard time remembering how small we are in the world. Kudzu is a good teacher. The house in the country just outside Ayden was occupied in the 1960s by a large, lively family. Time passed. The children grew up and left the home. The parents died and before long, kudzu had overrun the property. Without constant attention, the kudzu took over. The kudzu wins in the end.

Thanksgiving begins the holiday season, a time of cheer and hope. Beware acting like we own the joint. Watch out for creating myth around a myopic view of history. As travelers all, let us remember the good, the hard, the bad, and the ugly. Rejoice where we can; weep where we must. And let us love as if there is no tomorrow.

Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist Pastor, retreat leader and columnist who blogs at You may contact her at