Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and many are planning big feasts with family and friends, some football watching, and maybe even plans to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. My memories of Thanksgiving aren’t steeped in significant family traditions or feasts. For most of my adult life, I spent Thanksgiving deployed or away from home.

Still, I always felt it appropriate to use Thanksgiving as a time to be thankful for what I had, whether over lukewarm Thanksgiving Day fare at a deployed chow hall or by myself in my dorm room. Unfortunately, there is an alarming movement to try to cancel this beloved holiday.

Why would anyone want to cancel Turkey Day? Because it’s obviously racist, that’s why.

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History

For those of us whose memories might be a bit fuzzy or who don’t have children, Thanksgiving is often told to young kids as a time when the Pilgrims and the Indians came together to have a large celebratory feast. The two groups celebrated their cooperation that brought security to the Indian tribe and sustenance and sustained survival to the Pilgrims.

As you grow older, you learn that the relationship between the new settlers of America and the Indians was not always peaceful and resulted in lots of pain, violence, and bloodshed for both sides. If you just now learned this fact, you either weren’t paying attention in Middle or High School and live under a rock and need to watch some History Channel.

However, the story we know of Thanksgiving shouldn’t be tossed aside just because, like all things in history, it was complicated, messy, and at times awful. In 1621 the Pilgrims did invite the Wampanoag Indians to feast at the Plymouth colony to celebrate the first harvest.

There were plenty of times that the settlers of the New World and the Native Americans came together in cooperation and unity. But some claim since it wasn’t all rainbows and turkeys, we should do away with this holiday.

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Grievances

An article written by Chelsea Ritschel in the Independent last year explains why there is some consternation over this holiday:

“Like Columbus Day, the holiday is viewed by many to be a celebration of the conquest of Native Americans by colonists or an embellished narrative of ‘Pilgrims and Natives looking past their differences to break bread.'”

It’s fascinating how we keep adding new holidays to our calendar while systematically trying to erase the holidays that have been a foundation of American culture. One of the arguments is that the celebration of Thanksgiving attempts to try to erase the real historical struggles felt by Native Americans.

Co-leader of the United American Indians of New England and Lakota Mahtowin Munro argues, “The myths behind the Thanksgiving holiday have been a factor in erasing Indigenous realities for decades, especially the myth that the Pilgrim and other European invasions were peaceful or friendly.”

I’ll state again everyone knows the history between the Pilgrims, settlers, and Native Americans. I’m approaching middle age and was taught this history in public school.

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A New, Less Tasty Option

There is already a holiday that some in the Native American community recognize instead of Thanksgiving. It is called a National Day of Mourning that is on November 26th. 

This holiday is celebrated primarily at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and is a protest to the Thanksgiving holiday. I’ve also heard the holiday renamed as ‘Takesgiving’ or the slightly less creative play on words ‘The Thanksgiving Massacre”. 

Professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas has an interesting idea. According to Jensen, “One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.”

This weird new trend of needing to self-flagellate over sins committed by distant ancestors and another side of that coin, the need to relish in ancestral victimization, is beyond me. I’m pretty confident this trend will spell our demise as a civilization. I have nothing to atone for when it comes to the Native Americans, and I tried intermittent fasting, which lasted about four hours.

Missing The Point

This year will be no different than any other recent year, with ridiculous calls to cancel Thanksgiving. It’ll be most prevalent in your kid’s schools. Already the Iowa City community school district sent out a newsletter to families that stated, “While Thanksgiving for some is a time of celebration, we must not forget that for many Native American and Indigenous individuals in our community, it is often a time of mourning or reflection on past generational trauma.”

The newsletter provides resources for parents to include an article from Al Jazeera titled ‘Thanksgiving: The Annual Genocide Whitewash.’ My favorite resource, however, was ‘Forced to dine with a racist Uncle on Thanksgiving?’

I mean, who hasn’t felt that before? We all have that one uncle or aunt. All kidding aside, this argument that Thanksgiving should be canceled or is racist is missing the actual point of the holiday.

The Pilgrims and Wampanoag weren’t feasting together to give thanks for every aspect of their relationship, but for the moment they were living in. Life, much like history, is often filled with pain, heartache, and injustice. 

When we gather or take the time to give thanks each year, it’s for what we have now. It’s not to erase any of the pain we’ve had to go through to get to where we are in that moment but to focus on goodness.

As for my family, we don’t do an enormous feast, and we don’t gather with our families as they’ve grown apart for various reasons. But we spend time together as a small family unit, taking in nature or something unique and inspiring.

I am thankful that each year I am forced to slow down and say Thank You to my husband and kids while enjoying something incredible and fantastic.

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