I Don’t Hear the Music: Thanksgiving
Updated: May 29
Why is there no Thanksgiving specific music? There is the record breaking Mariah Carey song for Christmas, a ghoulishly long list of halloween tunes, love songs for valentine's day, gallic ballads for st. Patrick's day, nationalist garbage for the fourth of July, but nothing for Thanksgiving?
The American holiday Thanksgiving, specification for the 2% of international FattyStrap readers, is rooted in a settler mission. The mission that these mythical pilgrims chose to accept, was creating a new country. A land free of persecution, if you are a WASP, a land of opportunity, if you are a WASP, and a new place to drown bi-curious witches.
Our conception of thanksgiving and our further abstractions through media are found in one letter written by Edward Winslow, a Mayflower pilgrim in 1620, 20 years after the fated day. Thanksgiving was touted as a harvest celebration, in which there was a good faith intellectual exchange between the natives and the settlers, pick your team. This exchange favored the settlers as they were low on resources and lacked the skills to develop and produce crops in a new type of soil. The settlers had been there for a year, in which many of their population had died during the previous harsh winter, and the remaining population was happy to be alive. Should they be happy to be alive? So sometime in the fall, these two groups came together to share a meal. Not songs or drinks, just food. This foundation of struggle, skill development and community building form what we all encounter as the myth of thanksgiving, and what better way to explore this idea than through a painting none of us have seen since middle school.
The first thanksgiving painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Fun fact, this guy was born raised and died in Philly, fascinating. In this piece we see a collection of characters, painted to romanticize the reform that the WASP's brought to pre industrial America. The Indigenous population is all positioned beneath the sight line of the settlers, with the central figure being a purple laden WASP woman giving some biscuits to what I would assume would be the Native Chief. The slight purple is traditionally a regal color, used to depict those who are above, leaders, a population that God smiles on. A king to king type of conversation is being had, but there is a level of physical distancing formed through a separation of heights, a common trope to indicate a power differential.
To the left we see the only instance of a conversation between a native and a settler, two women looking at the spread that is being handed out to the group of natives sitting on the ground. The settler points in an instructional manner, HER hand coiled as if identifying something, while the native woman has hand on her waist, as if she is taking in this new concept of “dinner.” A possibly poorly informed good faith representation of this intellectual exchange, hey, at least there are representations of women in this painting. An interesting diagonal line is from the shaft of the sword of the knight by the table to the heel of the musket. This could be a question of the modernization of weapons which as we know, was a big portion of the violent relationship that followed this first dinner. There are a lot of frowning white men in this painting which is strange because they should be happy that there is an exchange of crops and knowledge, which also speaks to the tension found in the myth of Thanksgiving. Settlers relied on the native population to give settlers crops and show them how to cultivate those crops, but “settlers did it better and needed to reform the natives”. Examples of this are “native boarding schools” where children were kidnapped from tribes, forced to learn english and assimilate as second citizens. The good faith exchange has been lost to the white imaginary, SAD!
So why is there no music about this? There is seemingly a rich history, that someone who spends more than 10 minutes looking at one painting, to draw from to create some sea shanty style songs. Is this a call to action? Why are there no instruments present in the painting? Why are all of the google results Timeless Music thanksgiving mix?
For one, a fact my mom told me about while I rambled to her about my thoughts for the day, was that protestants didn’t listen to music. Far from the church hymns we know and love. There were no choirs, no rhymes, just authority. The absence of music at the inaugural event probably informed the lack of musical growth as the tradition grew and spread across the nation. This is not surprising as WASPs really fucking boring people. I guess there are different types of games people play on Thanksgiving, but as we contemporarily know them, it's mostly manifestations of capitalism feasting on our family values.
Is Thanksgiving a real holiday? Probably not, that's why there isn't music for it.
So happy thanksgiving.