Beliefnet
PLYMOUTH, Mass., Nov. 21 (RNS) -- Visit this spot where the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 and you're as apt to see Jamaican drummers and Bolivian bards this week as anything reminiscently Pilgrim.

That's because Plymouth's celebration has been transformed in recentyears from a one-day Pilgrim remembrance to a weeklong multiculturalfestival. The new rainbow of diversity, which began with a parade fiveyears ago, has ballooned this year with $84,000 in public grants toattract performers, craftspeople and dignitaries from 26 countries.

Organizers have multiple goals for the new Thanksgiving celebration.

They hope for brisk retail business as well as peace with AmericanIndians, who clashed violently with police three years ago in an annualDay of Mourning protest against the ongoing plight of natives. Indianchiefs now receive honors in opening ceremonies.

But at the heart of the remake lies a struggle to define whatPlymouth and the first Thanksgiving should symbolize today. Is it thearrival of the Gospel? The start of genocide? Or the organizers'favorite: the American immigrant experience?

"When I look at the Pilgrims, I see all of us. We all came here fromsomewhere," said Olavo Demacedo, a Cape Verde Islands immigrant andchairman of the board for America's Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration."I was the beneficiary of their struggle."

It's in that vein of celebrating immigration that this year's eventhas taken off. Plymouth capitalized on the United Nations declaration of2000 as the "International Year of Thanksgiving" by making America'sHometown Thanksgiving Celebration an event in which "the world comeshome" to Plymouth.

Despite the week's international flair, costumed marchers willproceed as usual on Thanksgiving Day from Plymouth Rock to the site ofthe first meeting house in the 80th annual Pilgrim Progress spectacle.But some who follow in the Pilgrims' spiritual footsteps say theirancestors' devotion to Jesus now lies in the shadow of the weeklongevent's "fuzzy focus."

"Is there a possibility that the Pilgrim faith will get swallowed upand disappear in a multicultural festival? Surely. In essence, that'swhat's happened," said Paul Jehle, historian and senior pastor of theevangelical New Testament Church of Cedarville, Mass. "Our goal, though, is tobe salt and light."

Church members did so in part by sponsoring aPilgrim float in the multicultural parade on Saturday.

American Indian protesters aren't entirely pleased with the newarrangement either.

"It doesn't change the reason why there is a National Day ofMourning," said Mahtowin Munro, a leader of United American Indians ofNew England, in an interview with the Boston Globe. "Native peoplecontinue to live in the absolute worst conditions on small squats ofland. None of this is changing."

Though the National Day of Mourning began in the early 1970s, ittook a new turn in 1997 with a march through Plymouth on ThanksgivingDay. Police arrested 25 protesters who sought to draw attention tonative sufferings since Europeans first arrived here.

Today, local historians often speak of the harmony that existedbetween Pilgrims and Indians at the first Thanksgiving and for the first50 years of settlement. And for the most part, Plymouth residents saythey support the new direction of Thanksgiving celebrations. They citereasons beyond the $1.5 million it gives the tourism industry, which isstill bouncing back from the bad national and international press thatfollowed 1997's violence and arrests.

"If the Pilgrim story has relevance today, it has to be moregeneralized (to become) a metaphor for every immigrant's experience,"said Annette Talbot, former president of the Plymouth HistoricalAlliance. "I think the multicultural context can build on PilgrimProgress and simply widen and deepen the experience."

Indeed, the quest to see Pilgrims as icons for all immigrants hasbecome a year-round project in Plymouth, which has absorbed influxes ofPortuguese and others in the past two centuries. The Pilgrim Hallmuseum, for example, has featured modern immigrant exhibits for morethan five years. The Plymouth Savings Bank sponsors the current onecalled, "Packing for America."

But even those who orchestrated this week's immigrant celebrationhave stressed Thanksgiving is still about thanking God. Demacedo, theboard's chairman, arranged for Harvard chaplain and Plymouth native theRev. Peter Gomes to open the ceremonies with a Christian prayer. He saidhe also urged churches to march and pray in the parade.

"I'm here advocating that tradition of stopping to give thanks toGod," Demacedo said. "It celebrates the very foundation that thePilgrims laid here. ... We have to be inclusive and not lose ouridentity. It's a tricky thing. It really is."

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