Thanksgiving and America

Melanie Kirkpatrick
Author, Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience

Melanie KirkpatrickMelanie Kirkpatrick is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. She received her A.B. from Princeton University and her M.A. from the University of Toronto. A long-time member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board, she is the co-editor of several editions of the Index of Economic Freedom and the author of two books, Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad and Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience.

In conclusion, I’d like to recount a personal story that gives special meaning to Ben Franklin’s characterization of Thanksgiving.

While researching my book, I met with teenagers attending Newcomer’s High School, a high school for immigrants in the borough of Queens in New York City. I led discussions in three classes about the Thanksgiving holiday, which most of the students were about to celebrate for the first time.

These high schoolers had a personal understanding of the Thanksgiving story.  For them, the Pilgrim story was their story, and the Pilgrim fathers and mothers were historical reflections of themselves. The Pilgrims had been divided into two groups: those who came to the New World seeking religious freedom and those who came here seeking better lives. The same was true for these students.

A girl from Ivory Coast explained how her father had worked as a houseboy in the old country. Now, she proudly told me, he has a job with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. “My dad came here to have a better life,” she said.

A boy from Tibet, a country that hasn’t formally existed since China annexed it in 1950, explained that his family couldn’t practice the Buddhism of the Dalai Lama in China. But here in America they could do so without fear.

Talking to these students, I was reminded of the words of the late historian Samuel Eliot Morison, who called the Pilgrims “the spiritual ancestors of all Americans, whatever their stock, race, or creed.”

Shades of the Pilgrims and the Wampa­noag Indians sit at every American’s Thanksgiving table, along with those of Washington, Lincoln, Sarah Josepha Hale, and others who have enriched our Thanksgiving tradition and helped to knit us together as a nation. This history, and more, is worthy of our remembrance, with grateful hearts, on every Thanksgiving Day—including this one.