There are a lot of reasons I love Thanksgiving. I love that the holiday spurs people to come together, gather around a table, and give thanks. I love eating pie and drinking wine and laying on the couch wearing sweatpants and socks while the Cowboys play on the television. I love the pride a family can have over a dish of sweet potatoes, how a bowl of cranberry sauce can be so much more than a bowl of cranberry sauce. It’s a day that aligns so strongly with my core values (family and food, namely) that I feel the temptation to ignore the rest. It’s easy to pretend Thanksgiving is devoid of problems when, up until pretty recently, there was little to no public discourse saying otherwise.
For a long time, the story of the first Thanksgiving has failed to acknowledge the very real story of colonization and massacre. It has glossed over the unpleasant realities and instead painted a picture of turkey and camaraderie, of a false friendship between the Pilgrims and the Native American people they displaced. And I feel a growing hesitancy to continue pretending that Thanksgiving is a day about coming together and holding hands when I can see, quite plainly now, all the ways it’s not that.
This growing hesitancy to celebrate Thanksgiving is a collective one, as evidenced by the general decline in young people taking part in holiday traditions. Even here at AMASS, with a team that loves nothing more than gathering together over food and drink, several members of our team have chosen to opt out of traditional Thanksgiving festivities, citing the holiday’s problematic history as the predominant reason. One member of our team spends the day making an assortment of dishes from all over the world, while another simply takes advantage of the time off work to visit her family in Northern California.
But for those of us who do celebrate, whether that be because of familial obligation or a genuine desire to spend a day giving thanks, how are we supposed to reconcile Thanksgiving’s gruesome history with our own passed-down traditions? And more importantly: is doing so even possible?
Having a day to gather with loved ones and reflect on what we’re thankful for is not, at its essence, a bad thing. In fact, it’s an essential practice, regardless of whether that moment of reflection takes place on the last Thursday of November or any other day. But if we are going to use Thanksgiving as a day to eat, drink, and give thanks with the people we love, it’s our responsibility to do so in a way that respects and acknowledges the pain felt by many in the Native community.
I’ve found through articles like this one and conversations with friends that there are actually many ways to acknowledge the problematic history of Thanksgiving. By remembering and talking about the first Thanksgiving as it really happened, taking the time to not only give thanks but to reflect on the lives lost, and donating to indigenous-rights organizations like these, we can work to reframe the narrative of Thanksgiving.