You see that lovely picture up there? The one with middle-aged Snow White giving some undercooked bird to the guy who came over-dressed to the party? The caption of that photo from TIME says:
“History is full of shadows and myth”
Thanksgiving might not be what people have spent the last couple of centuries saying it is, but that’s not too surprising, really. History is full of shadows and myth no matter what part of the world you live in. The cultural significance of Thanksgiving has been all wrapped up in a turkey and, like stuffing, comes out a little too soggy for some. Soggy in the sense that it’s not entirely accurate. In truth; it’s pretty much a lie. Some say that the ‘first Thanksgiving’ never even happened. Historically, Thanksgiving hasn’t always been in November, either. But that’s just the tip of the ice cream, my friends. The saying is traditionally ‘the tip of the iceberg’ but I’m still mad about the Titanic, so I changed it. Take that, tradition.
Surprisingly enough, it’s pretty much ‘internet safe’ for us to admit when we don’t particularly agree with something these days (aside from the death threats. But no one really cares what you think anyway), and the holidays have been especially controversial in the last ten years or so. Everyone went from saying “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays”. I even know a mail carrier who went ‘postal’ on someone for wishing her a “Merry Christmas” instead of the more politically correct alternative. I tend to stop and reflect during this time of the year. With opera music blasting and hot chocolate in my hand, I begin to question the meaning of things. Why is it that people get angry when greeted with “Merry Christmas”? More importantly, what does this have to do with Thanksgiving? Well. I’ll tell you.
With social media and digital technology cataloguing racial/religious/class inequalities like never before, media users find themselves confronted with a super massive black hole of utter disappointment in each other. Why are we so unloving? And what can we do to be kinder, more inclusive, and less offensive? Wishing someone “Merry Christmas” can convey (intentionally or not) an attitude of the self-involved. Maybe that person doesn’t celebrate Christmas at all, and feels left out by the greeting. Whatever you may think of that mentality, it corresponds with the reason why some people dislike Thanksgiving.
“an antique political lie”
Celebrating a holiday that is grounded in a myth about the happy, neighborly relationship between Pilgrims and Native Americans can come across as a complete disregard for the interracial struggle and genocide that saturates American history. Knowing the truth about the history between Pilgrims and Native Americans has turned Thanksgiving into an antique political lie that people are hesitant to take part in.
“America grew up with the holiday, just like most of us.”
But, as Janet Siskind said in her article, The Invention of Thanksgiving: A ritual of American nationality, “Thanksgiving is inescapably part of American culture.” Since some form of a Thanksgiving has been around for centuries, she’s not even being metaphorical. America grew up with the holiday, just like most of us. Thanksgiving really is a part of American culture as we know it. That said, there is another aspect of American culture that people can’t escape from, and that is the ability to adapt and reshape the things we hold dear into new things which are less offensive, and more multi-culturally and multi-racially acceptable. Hence, we have Turkey Day.
“You don’t even have to give thanks.”
Turkey Day is not the same as Thanksgiving. Yes, they both entail savagely murdering a beautiful animal, slathering it in oil and stuffing it with spicy bread, but only if that’s your thing. For, in the great and newly emerging American spirit of inclusivity, Turkey Day is whatever you want it to be according to your race, religion and personal preference. You don’t have to pray, as is part of the traditional Thanksgiving requirement. You don’t even have to give thanks. You could just ungratefully stuff your face with potatoes or couscous instead. Either way, you’d be celebrating the holiday your way, without the guilt of glorifying a mythical friendship which never really existed, and has eased the consciences of palefaces everywhere. Of course, that isn’t to say that there weren’t times of peace between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Nor would I say that everyone white is purely evil by nature. That’s just racist. But, it’s no longer a secret that Native Americans were treated quite foully by settlers, and Thanksgiving as we’ve all known it, didn’t really happen the way we’ve been told.
“The funny and awful thing about that is…”
The great thing is that we no longer have to continue celebrating Thanksgiving in the traditional way. We don’t even have to call it ‘Turkey Day’ to change the holiday from an offensive misrepresentation of the horrible truth. We can simply acknowledge its origins and move on. Not forget, but move beyond the point where the sins of the father hinder the children. History is behind us, and while the horrors of the past will follow us through life, we don’t have to let it continue to eat away at our joy. There is no point in demonizing the pilgrims, nor is it appropriate to glorify their behavior. They were fallible, primitive human beings. The funny and awful thing about that is…people will probably say the same about all of us in three hundred years.
When I give thanks on Thanksgiving, I’m not idealizing the past. I’m just eating pumpkin pie. And I think that’s exactly what we should do: Enjoy the gifts we’re given in true honor of the sacrifices made by those who came before us. No matter what they told you in school, that is the honest truth about Thanksgiving.