Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. A day where we all eat the same meal containing too many carbs and too much sugar. A day where we drive some distance to be with family we only see once a year at most. Or a day where we’re plotting our shopping itinerary to take advantage of Black Friday sales that start at midnight to buy cheap shit we don’t need.
Ok, that’s the cynical view, but on a broad scale I’m not too far off. I love me a holiday, so while I am deeply cynical of the holiday and the trappings I hear about out in the world, my husband and I keep things simple and end up enjoying a delicious meal with whichever friends and family come to us.
But this year has been different. This week I got to experience Thanksgiving as seen through the eyes of the American public school system as an adult. I am shocked and dismayed to report that nothing has changed since 1980. Teachers are still making kids create teepees (which I am pretty sure belonged to Native Americans from the central plains, not the eastern seaboard), wear various headdresses, calling Native Americans ‘Indians,’ and basically spewing an historically sketchy version of events using the word ‘God’ in the story. My history degrees cringed and wept. The liberal snob in me was appalled. The mother in me smiled like a fool while my kindergartener happily (and politely!) ate up his plate of various corn products.
No, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday of freedom. The Pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution, but they did not believe in ‘freedom for all.’ Perhaps from a white colonialist point of view their landing was a step toward their freedom. But we know how the story ends – with Native American populations more than decimated by war and disease, forced off their lands and into spaces that forced them to renounce their languages, families, customs, and gods. This is not a holiday celebrating the kindness of whites to Natives, or their friendship.
I think there are ways to discuss the contested origins and perspectives of this holiday that even 5 year olds can appreciate. (This is a good look at the Native American perspective.) I expected that in a rather liberal, hippie town such as Olympia that there would be more nuance in this unit. I was terribly mistaken.
Yes, capitalist powers have eaten into this idea by creating a national day of shopping on the Friday after. Yes, this holiday is much more easily celebrated by the middle and upper classes who can afford the standard meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie, and who are not compelled to work on a day that most people get off. Cynicism and criticism vented, I still celebrate this holiday and think that, in general, it is a positive one for the United States. Why? Because anything that can bring attention to the history and current status of Native Americans is a good thing. Because having a national holiday that focuses on giving thanks is a good thing. Because in spite of the cynicism and distractions of food and goods people still post all over the internet and share in person the things that they are grateful for. Gratitude is serious spiritual and magical work.
Today I am grateful for the beautiful weather my region has been having and the sun that lifts my spirits. I am grateful for my husband and children who bring love and joy into my life every single day. I am grateful for a healthy, uneventful pregnancy, and an active fetus wiggling like mad inside me. I am grateful that Adam’s parents have chosen to live near to us, that we will drive a simple and lovely 20 minutes to their house today. I am grateful that we have enough to eat and that my parents showed me how to cook, so that I can eat what I want to eat. I am grateful for the people in my life, near and far, who support me in my fullness.
Wherever you are, I hope you will take a moment to practice an expression of gratitude. If you are American, I hope you find a way to celebrate this day in a way that has meaning for you and yours. May your families, biological and chosen, be blessed. May your stomachs be full. May you be blessed by the land and your communities. Safe travels to all who are on the roads, in the skies, or on the rails this weekend.
Blessings to one and all!