Here’s where I stand on Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s the one holiday I can feed my face with the most delicious comfort food, get together with family to share family history, stories, a few laughs, every now and then some drama which over time becomes just another page in the family comedy story. And then there’s the freedom of not having to buy, bring, and exchange gifts with the exception of something to eat. It is the one time of year, we take a real pause from our too busy lives to assess and express our gratitude for the year. Some years we have much to be grateful for; some years are bittersweet.
That said, I write this post in response to a “Community Comment” segment on WPFW FM yesterday. The question to the masses was “What does Thanksgiving mean to you?” Several callers gave chronology and history about Thanksgiving along the lines of a “Day of Genocide,” “Day of Mourning” for the Indigenous peoples of North America. They don’t subscribe to the mythology of English Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians sitting peacefully side-by-side in a feast of Thanksgiving where they served the first popcorn. Truth be told, I don’t subscribe to the mythology either. But neither do I subscribe to ignoring and castigating my family who do use the holiday to gather in not just the bounty but the relations. As one caller finally chimed in, we can know the real history behind Thanksgiving, but, he said, it’s a time “I enjoy getting together with my family. We don’t have to Scroogesize it.” [I’m adding “Scroogesize” to the Eclectique916 vocabulary list.]
And what do communities that grow food to sustain life and community do after a fine harvest? They give thanks. I have family members on my father’s side who are Indigenous people. One of my cousins gave us our first taste of fresh wild turkey. He “harvested” it himself. For them, Thanksgiving is the time to celebrate the harvest.
I’m doing this informal poll with Native Americans I know, friend and family alike, asking them the same question as WPFW. “What does Thanksgiving mean to you?” No one is representing. These are all individuals and personal opinions. My friend, filmmaker Billy Luther (Navajo) did respond:
i have so much cooking to do starting tomorrow. yikes! have a wonderful day!!!
He’s looking forward to sharing his bounty with family and friends.
My sister forwarded me the newsletter from the National Museum of the American Indian which featured a schedule of Thanksgiving programs under the heading “Celebrate Thanksgiving at the National Museum of the American Indian.” November 14 and 15, the NMAI hosted a Celebrate the Harvest Family program which featured traditional food preparation techniques – a foody thing. The NMAI houses one of my favorite museum cafeterias in the world. The food at the Mitsitam Cafe is so so good. Prices are not cafeteria prices. But it’s a treat.
Another interesting link, for the history buffs, is the Plimoth Plantation museum, which is trying to be balanced about the story and even debunk some of the myths of the encounters in New England. www.plimoth.org.
I’ll see what others say on the topic, but for me, I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving, and I don’t plan to be working that day. I can tell you my own family stories of genocide and mourning. However, the best time to collect these stories is (duh) Thanksgiving when every one feels the urge to come together; a family day, straight up. I have a lot to be thankful for, and my family is one those blessings or gifts. Saturday, it’s Cosmos with the girls. Friends are a blessing too.
And for those of you who are Scroogecizing tomorrow, maybe “The Addams Family Values” DVD can sweeten your mood.
Or if you’re on-line UndercoverBlackman has some great Native American history posts on his blog.