Give Thanks for Guy Fawkes

Philosopher of science Michael Ruse writes at the Chronicle:

I grew up in England, so of course I knew nothing of Thanksgiving.  Our fall celebration was November Fifth, Guy Fawkes Night, when we used to light bonfires and let off fireworks—no safety restrictions in those days—and celebrate the foiling of the Catholic plot to blow up the House of Parliament in 1605.  In the old days, it had been an occasion for anti-Catholic outbursts, but was no longer so by the time I was a child.  I had a good friend who was a Catholic who enjoyed it as much as anyone.  One would make a “guy,” an effigy of Fawkes, and burn it on the fire.  The boarding school I went to was just down the road from St Peter’s School York, the oldest school in England, and the alma mater of Guy Fawkes.  On a good year, our guy would be wearing a St Peter’s cap.

When I came to North America in 1962, I was invited to people’s homes for Thanksgiving.  I spent time in both Canada and the US, so I experienced both forms.  Canadians have their Thanksgiving the second Monday of October, whereas Americans have theirs on the fourth Thursday of November.  While American Thanksgiving is hardly a religious occasion—except inasmuch as everything in America is a religious occasion—it is in a sense kind of holy, commemorating the Pilgrims and that sort of thing.  A family time, although rather like one of those psychological tests where you are asked not to think of sex for five minutes —“five minutes!”  you must be kidding, try five seconds—for me it is a matter of not thinking of Norman Rockwell.

I’ve always been a great devotee of Thanksgiving myself, partly because, in a strange and backwards way, I find it the most truly religious of American holidays—no presents, no Easter bunny, no dreidels, no militarism. Just a sort of last supper, a breaking bread together—as he wonderfully goes on to point out—before the cold of winter.

Too bad it’s built on the memory of a genocide. Let’s also take the time to say, “Never again.” Then turn to the people around us and eat.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.