Thanksgiving, according to Mark Twain

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m sure you’re all enjoying your Turkey and pumpkin pie, but I thought I’d offer something to read in case you need a break from family and frivolity. Below are two quotes about Thanksgiving from famous nineteenth century humorist Mark Twain, whom I absolutely adore. Happy reading!

This first quotation is from Twain’s autobiography:

Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for–annually, not oftener–if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.

This second is from a Thanksgiving address he gave:

A few days ago one of the interviewers offered to let me do a Thanksgiving sentiment. I was not able to take advantage of the opportunity for I had already declined two chances and it would not be fair to be inconsistent and unreliable unless I could do good by it or there was graft in it somewhere, for the family.

Besides there is another aspect to this matter. Every year every person in America concentrates all his thought upon one thing, the cataloguing of his reasons for being thankful to the Deity for the blessings conferred upon him and upon the human race during the expiring twelve months. This is well and as it should be; but it is too one-sided. No one ever seems to think of the Deity’s side of it; apparently no one concerns himself to inquire how much or how little He has had to be thankful for during the same period; apparently no one has had good feeling enough to wish He might have a Thanksgiving day too. There is nothing right about this.

Do you suppose everything has gone to His satisfaction during the year? Do you believe He is as sweepingly thankful as our nation is going to be, as indicated by the enthusiasms which will appear in the papers on the thirtieth of this month from the pens of the distinguished persons appointed to phrase its thankfulness on that day?

We may be unstintedly thankful, but can that really be the case with Him? If He had a voice how would He regard the year’s results in Russia? What would He be thankful for there? The servants of the government in patriotic obedience to its commands have lately killed and wounded 50,000 Jews by unusual and unpleasant methods, butchering men and women with knife and bayonet; flinging them out of windows; saturating them with kerosene, and setting fire to them; shutting them up in cellars and smothering them with smoke; drenching the children with boiling water; tearing other children asunder by methods of the Middle Ages. Doubtless, the most that He can be thankful for is that the carnage and suffering are not as bad as they might have been.

He will have noticed that life insurance in New York has gone tolerably rotten, and that the widow and the orphan have had a sorrowful time of it at the hands of their chosen protectors. Doubtless, the most that He is thankful for it that the rottenness and the robberies have not been absolutely complete. He has noticed that the the political smell ascending from New York, Philadelphia, and sixty or seventy other municipalities has been modified a little — temporarily — and is doubtless thankful for the transient reprieve.

He has observed that King Leopold’s destruction of innocent life in the Congo is not as great this year as it was last, by as much as 100,000 victims, because of diminishing material; he also has noticed that America and other great powers — accessories before the fact and responsible for these murders, especially America — properly are thankful on our Thanksgiving day for nineteen previous Thanksgiving days; and without doubt He is Himself thankful that matters in the Congo are not as irretrievably bad as they might be, and that some natives still are left alive.

One is justified in fearing that the Deity’s Thanksgiving day is not as rosy as ours will appear when the Thanksgiving sentiments blossom out in our journals and that if He, now voiceless, should utter a sentiment it would be tinged with a pathetic regret.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • OurSally

    I always admired Mark Twain. Then I got his Complete Works free (!) on my Kindle and it’s all brilliant! Every phrase is quoteable!


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