The Real Thanksgiving

By DAVID BROOKS

New York Times

November 24, 2005

And so in the year of our Lord 1620, the Pilgrims did depart from all kith and kin in the town of Leiden and ventured forth across the ocean to seek a new Jerusalem and a new Eden.

The voyage was hard and long, for the Pilgrims could find passage only on The Nation magazine's summer cruise and Gore Vidal hogged the Jacuzzi. Yet onward they ventured, across the vastness of the ocean until finally the infinite wonder of the New World came into view, and the passengers of the Mayflower realized here they could raise their children and their children's children to be snooty and the subjects of John Cheever stories.

They were greeted at the shore by a tribe of native peoples, led by chief Massasoit and his lobbyist Abramoff. The Pilgrim leader William Bradford spoke first: "Behold! We have come to drive you from your land and fill it with sexually frigid white people!"

And it came to pass that Massasoit was relieved by this declaration, for at least the strangers had not come promising to spread democracy. In exchange, all he asked was that he and his people be allowed to open casinos where David Brenner's career would never end and where Celine Dion would play Saturday nights.

Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought to a safe land, the Pilgrims did proceed to build a shining city on a hill, though it made their legs tired and the driveway was hard to shovel in the wintertime. Declaring themselves the first Americans, they set out to become mortgage brokers and conference facilitators, and each began refinancing with the other.

But the Lord did not smile upon their endeavors, and by midwinter the food had run short and there was starvation across the congregation, especially for those on low-corn diets. The Pilgrims found they did not have enough to eat, and even when there was food, they couldn't get seated at a good table.

But what was most sad and lamentable was that in two or three months' time, half the company had died, Internet service was slow, and the Lord's favorability ratings began to decline. In the midst of these hardships, many did find spiritual succor by returning their attention to the Holy Book (even though parts of it were now behind a firewall as part of ScriptureSelect).

Others reacted to these difficult beginnings with murmurings of mutiny and discontent. It was said that Miles Standish had brought the flock to the New World on the basis of faulty intelligence, while others claimed the pilgrimage had been ruined by the religious right.

But as winter turned into spring, the forests came alive with animals and meat. There were deer in plenitude, as well as geese and turkeys, all of it free range. The ponds and rivers yielded forth clams, oysters and other trayf, and the mischievous little cabernet they had brought from Europe was finally ready to uncork. And so a great feast of Thanksgiving was announced (dress code: frilly but puritanical). The great Indian chief Massasoit, who was by this time really into kabbalah, brought 90 warriors to the feast, each bearing scented candles and dim sum.

As it turned out, the first Thanksgiving was a little anticlimactic because it followed five days after the first bat mitzvah, with guest singers Ashanti, Ja Rule and the Backstreet Boys. Nonetheless, there was great merriment amongst the gathering, as well as several surprise winners of the Pilgrims' Choice Awards.

The dinner was delicious, no matter what some people wrote later in Zagat, and after the football game, Miles Standish brought forth Jonathan Edwards, Puritanism's leading motivational speaker, who energized the crowd with his famous talk, "Cower Before God's Wrath, Ye Slimy Pusballs of Sin!"

And Governor Bradford reminded his flock that all honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, which must be overcome with answerable courages, and all ignored him because "CSI: Salem" was on. But all Americans owe much to those brave folk who supped that day.

For it is from those Pilgrims, the last WASP's to truly look good in black, that we have inherited the essential elements of the American character - our ability to look honestly at ourselves and find other people less intelligent; our ability to endure moments of amazing hardship before resorting to litigation; our ability to build this nation, so broad and strong, which the Chinese will one day be proud to own.