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To the Saints that are in Los Osos,
On October 14 I worked on the service for the following Sunday, processed email, spoke with people both from the church and the community, and did the inevitable paper work –just a typical Monday day in the office for me. The only thing different about that Monday is that the people who count and record the offering didn’t come in as they always do on Monday mornings. There was no hurry to complete the counting since the banks were all closed for the Federal holiday. Monday, October 14 was Columbus Day.
The week before, Mary Anne had asked if the office was closed for Columbus Day, but the church doesn’t observe it as a paid holiday. Throughout California, schools were in session on the 14th. It was different when I was in elementary school: “in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and so we got a free day. (Did you know that little poem actually has 14 couplets?) Lots of places that used to celebrate Columbus Day don’t anymore. Over the last few years I have been challenged to understand better what it means to be “discovered.”
I saw a meme on Facebook this year that read, “Columbus Day Sale… does that mean that I can go in and just take anything I want?” We live in a time of growing awareness that Columbus, (and for that matter, other explorers), didn’t just “discover” places but seriously affected the lives of the millions of people who were “discovered.” Colonization with its injustice always seems to follow discovery. As you doubtless know, there has been a movement to re-designate the day as “Indigenous People’s Day.” It was so designated in 2019 in Florida, Alaska, Maine, Vermont and New Mexico. It was called Native American Day in South Dakota, and rechristened Discoverers’ Day in Hawaii – but not in honor of Captain Cook. The state statute reads, “The second Monday in October shall be known as Discoverers’ Day, in recognition of the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands, provided that this day is not and shall not be construed to be a state holiday.”
Thanksgiving is beloved by many Americans, but it is highly controversial to many others. Some see it as one more attempt to whitewash European colonization. The usual origin story for the American tradition of Thanksgiving is that it commemorates a feast held in the Plymouth colony in 1621 after a harsh winter during which 45 of the original 102 colonists died. While the story of Squanto and Massasoit and his Wampanoag tribe has most likely been altered, it is likely that the first colonists would not have survived at all without the help of the indigenous people and their knowledge of how to grow and obtain food in this new place.
I have changed my understanding of Columbus Day over the years, but I struggle with how to honor this beloved tradition of Thanksgiving in balance with my growing understanding of the inequities and outrages that have occurred on this continent. Over the years this has become personal to me because I am a double Mayflower descendent. “My people, “ (as my Grandmother would say), are part of this history.
What should I do? First, we are called to give thanks, as in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I think it is useful to have a time set aside to remind us to give our thanks to God. It can also be a time to give thanks for diversity as we remember that our ancestors did not prosper on their own but had lots of help. I will give thanks and celebrate the holiday, but I ask that God grant I do so in humility. Thank you for coming with me as I sort out my thoughts.
See you in Church,