Blue State Blues: Why Did We Neglect the 400th Anniversary of Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving at Plymouth Brownscombe (Wikimedia Commons)
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe / Wikimedia Commons

Americans like to observe milestones, so it is odd that the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving passed with so little notice.

President Joe Biden barely mentioned the anniversary — four centuries! —  in his proclamation of the holiday: “Just as 400 years ago when the Pilgrims were able to celebrate a successful first harvest thanks to the generosity and support of the Wampanoag, today we too express our gratitude for those who have helped us get through this difficult past year.”

Part of the answer lies in a comparison to then-President Donald Trump’s proclamation last year, which gave far greater attention to the 400 mark: “This November marks 400 years since the Mayflower and its passengers faced the unknown and set sail across the Atlantic Ocean. … This seminal event in the history of our Nation is a continual reminder of the power of faith, love, perseverance, prayer, and fellowship.”

Trump was bigger on anniversaries, and patriotic days in general.

Still, the 45th president did not say much about the 400th anniversary in his own statement on Thanksgiving this week.

In a statement, he struck a more abstract political tone: “A very interesting time in our Country, but do not worry, we will be great again—and we will all do it together. America will never fail, and we will never allow it to go in the wrong direction. Too many generations of greatness are counting on us. Enjoy your Thanksgiving knowing that a wonderful future lies ahead!”

Here at Breitbart, our own Rebecca Mansour marked the anniversary: “This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving celebrated by our Pilgrim fathers and mothers in 1621.”

She added: “This year, you’ll see more about the inflated price of Thanksgiving dinner than about the 400th anniversary of the holiday.” That, she observed, is because “the Pilgrims are being airbrushed out of our cultural memory.”

Indeed, the media are focusing on 1619, rather than 1620 or 1621.

The left argues that the country’s true founding dates not to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, nor to the arrival of the Pilgrims in Plymouth Rock in 1620, nor to the first permanent settlement at Jamestown in 1607, but to the importation of the first African slave in Virginia in 1619.

If Thanksgiving is to be remembered at all, we are told, it is as the ominous prelude to centuries of dispossession of the country’s indigenous population — or, at best, a socialist milestone, a holiday about sharing.

The late Rush Limbaugh, who passed away this year, disagreed. He made an annual tradition of telling the “true” story of Thanksgiving, which was not just about sharing between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, but about how the introduction of free enterprise had created new bounty among the settlers and saved the colony.

They tried socialism; it failed; then they allowed individuals to make their own decisions, and the result was a grateful, shared collective prosperity.

This is the first Thanksgiving in many decades without Limbaugh, who probably would not have let the 400th anniversary of the holida pass by without fanfare. His absence is keenly felt by conservatives, never more so than this holiday week.

But as families gathered this week to celebrate the holiday, there was something of that old holiday spirit that Limbaugh evoked in his story.

The Pilgrims broke with the communal arrangement they had negotiated with their sponsors in Europe. They did what worked, not what they were told to do.

Likewise, this year, Americans decided to ignore the lingering pandemic rules, with 79% spending the holiday with others, and 65% doing so without any mask or vaccine requirements.

Thanksgiving has always been quietly defiant, without being prideful. Perhaps, then, it is fitting that the 400th anniversary was a humble one.

We kept our focus where it belonged: not on numbers, but on God, and on gratitude, and on each other.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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