A Historical Perspective of Thanksgiving

A Historical Perspective of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving: Puritans, Pilgrims, and Sexual Obsession

I found this article particularly interesting with the holidays coming and its ties to my research into my mystery about the Salem Witch Trials, Pure Lies.  Sexual obsession is not a concept usually associated with Puritans, but this sheds light on a grim and repressed period of time in American history.

“America’s Thanksgiving holiday goes back at least 388 years to the year following the arrival of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620. The Pilgrims were among a number of sects called Puritans, and like many Puritan sects, the Pilgrims came to America essentially because they thought 17th Century England much too bawdy.(1) That England of the time was bawdy — a raucous bawdiness in full bloom — there’s no doubt. But the idea that the Puritans (and Pilgrims) suffered from religious persecution in England is probably a myth. What they suffered from was unease (and maybe too much temptation) at the general licentiousness of English life.

So various Puritan colonies were established in America, colonies with dictatorial repression of daily life, mostly of sexual behavior. It’s an American cultural heritage that few Americans ever talk about, except maybe when they read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a novel about the miseries of an adulterous couple in a Puritan community. Our custom is for three or four generations of family to sit down at a Thanksgiving dinner with hardly a memory that what the Pilgrims and other Puritans were all about was sexual obsession.

A set of ideas about human sexual behavior so strong that the ideas result in strict rules that govern a community by threat of physical punishment easily morphs from philosophy into obsession — and that’s exactly what happened once the Puritans came into control of laws in their colonies in the New World.

The background of the Puritan obsession with sex is a fascinating thread in the history of Western culture. The obsession apparently originated in a close literal reading of the Bible, a fervent belief that the main causes of the suffering of all mankind were 1) the disobedience of Adam and Eve in seeking knowledge of sex, 2) the shame of their nakedness, and 3) their sexual desire for each other. Taking these causes as axioms for social doctrine about sexual behavior led the literalists (fundamentalists) easily into social tyranny. The sexual act itself became the “original sin” — an irony, since the sexual act was the only means available to produce progeny to replace those who died.

The old New England children’s rhyme tells it all: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”

These ideas certainly predated the Puritans, since hatred of women as sexual saboteurs, revulsion at the sex act, and derision of marriage are on nearly every page of the writings of St. Paul and St. Augustine. The great Protestant reformers Luther, Calvin and Knox did little to change these attitudes about sexual behavior, and more or less enforced them. The classical Christian view was that any act of sexual love, in or out of marriage, was a betrayal of God. By the time the Puritans arrived, the classical view had been modified: sexuality in marriage was acceptable, but sexuality of any kind outside marriage was a sin and a crime, punishable with fines, whipping, branding, banishment, and even death.

And the origins? The fervor against sexuality evidently originated in ancient Hebrew law, the ancient fear that man was weakened by sexual intercourse, ancient references to the sex act as the “little death” and a form of castration. In their morning prayers, Orthodox Jews still proclaim, “I thank Thee, Lord, for not having created me a woman.”

Sexuality was inherently evil, the sex act an abomination and a sin, women morally inferior and sources of temptation. If the sex act was needed to produce a new generation, let it be accomplished without lust. So much for the mechanics of Darwinian sexual selection. From a biological standpoint, it’s a wonder the Western world did not go extinct before the Renaissance. But it’s no wonder at all that countless women (and many men) were driven into madness by the incompatibility between the social tyranny of their Judeo-Christian cultural heritage and their evolved biology.

At the Thanksgiving table we think of turkey, children, and grandparents. Let it be so. We need the comforts, especially in our current time. But we should also be thankful that we’ve come out of the darkness of the past, the darkness of ignorance and social tyranny. That too is something that needs the giving of thanks.

Note (1). Whatever “persecution” the Pilgrims suffered in Europe was political rather than religious. The Pilgrims were Puritan separatists. The sect of Puritans who came to be known as Pilgrims wanted complete separation from the Anglican Church. Other Puritan sects did not demand separation. It was the vocal opposition of Pilgrim leaders to the Anglican Church and the King of England that caused their problems with government. The Pilgrims left England for Holland, were unhappy in Holland, and eventually achieved financing by English investors and migrated to America.”

Written by Dan Agin and posted 3/18/2010, updated 11/17/2011.  Reprinted from the Huffington Post.

 

The Origins of Halloween

The Origins of Halloween

As a history buff, I find myself investigating the origins of many things.  Holiday celebrations are one, so here you go. Enjoy.

The origins of Halloween date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in.)  2,000 years ago, the Celts, living primarily in the area now called Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated New Year on November 1.

This day marked the end of summer and the harvest.  It also signified the beginning of the dark, cold winter, which was traditionally associated with death.  It was a Celt belief that the night before the New Year, the borders between the world of the living and that of the dead became hazy.  On October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when the ghosts of the dead returned to this world to stir up a bit of havoc.

Otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Celtic priest, or Druids, to predict the future.  These prophesies were important and gave the Celts comfort and direction for the long, dark winter.

In commemoration of these events, the priests constructed large sacred bonfires, where citizens gathered to burn crops and animals (in Hollywood, sometimes people!) as sacrifices to Celtic deities. During the celebration, they wore costumes of animal skins and heads and conducted fortune-telling sessions.

By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory and within the 400 years in which they ruled, two festivals of Roman origin were joined with the traditional Celtic festival of Samhain.  The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead.  The second was a festival day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of trees and fruit.  The symbol of Pomona is the apple and may explain why the tradition of bobbing for apples is popular on Halloween today.

The “holiday” was not widely celebrated in the New England colonies of America because of the rigid Protestant beliefs. It was practiced more in the southern colonies and common in Maryland.

The beliefs and customs of the European practices eventually blended with the American Indians and American colonists and a distinct version of Halloween emerged.  Neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell fortunes, dance and sing.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivals were common, but Halloween festivities per se were not.  By the second half of the century, however, new immigrants, especially the Irish, made the celebration popular nationally.

Fun Fact: Did you know that one quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween?

A Christmas Poem

A Christmas Poem

A year ago I received this sweet poem in a Christmas card but am having trouble finding the poet.  The closest I can come is a similar poem by Helen Steiner Rice.  Both poems are lovely but if anyone knows who wrote the one below, please let me know.  Thanks and have a wonderful holiday!

My Christmas Card List

*There is a list of folks I know

All written in a book,

And every year at Christmas time

I go and take a look.

And this is when I realizedf

Those names are all a part,

Not of the book they’re written in

But deep inside my heart

*For each name stands for someone

Who has touched my life sometime,

And in that meeting they’ve become

A special friend of mine.

I really feel that we’re composed

Of each remembered name,

And my life is so much better

Than it was before they came.

*Once you’ve known that “someone”

All the years cannot erase,

The memory of a pleasant word

Or of a friendly face.

So never think my Christmas cards are just a mere routine,

Of names upon a list that are

Forgotten in between.

*For when I send a Christmas card

That is addressed to you,

It is because you’re on the list

Of folks I’m indebted to.

And whether I have known you

For many years or few,

The greatest gift that life can give

Is having friends like you.