On the first Thanksgiving, the settlers of Plymouth celebrated their harvest peacefully with Native Americans. At least, that’s what a German student said they learned in class. Some of their peers said the holiday is nothing but an ignorant celebration of genocide and colonialism. But do Americans feel the same?
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
Turkey Day Troubles
Depending on your appetite and how much you like family time, you may or may not look forward to Thanksgiving. But how much does the true history of the holiday come to mind? In an online forum titled “Ask An American,” a German student polled Americans to see if they found anything wrong with celebrating Thanksgiving.
1: Separate the Celebration
One American adult says if a bunch of miserable people want to make Turkey Day political, that’s on them. “As an adult, I’m capable of separating the intent of the holiday from the unfortunate reality of our treatment of Native Americans,” they said. “The holiday intends to be thankful and celebrate family.”
2: Not Just Thanksgiving
On that note, one American said there are very few holidays that wouldn’t be problematic if we analyzed them hard enough. They said Mother’s Day could be seen as anti-feminist and enforces heteronormativity. Birthdays? You aren’t special and are contributing to global warming. You can sense the pattern.
3: Apples to Oranges
One American says their closest friend is Navajo and considers Thanksgiving her favorite holiday. “I have no idea why so many Europeans feel the need to tell us how we should feel about our holidays,” they added. “But nothing about modern-day Thanksgiving really has anything to do with pilgrims, much less genocide or the celebration of it.”
4: Giving Thanks
Another person said what the general public considers to be the first Thanksgiving is not accurate. “President Lincoln designated a day of Thanksgiving during the Civil War,” one American said. “Thanksgiving isn’t a celebration of the loss of native lands and lives. It’s to celebrate all we are thankful for today, and that line of tradition is extensive.”
5: Guilt-Free Gatherings
You can gather around the table guilt-free, according to one American who says there’s nothing problematic about the holiday itself. “The problem arises when you tell the story of the first Thanksgiving and act like all settler/native interactions were similarly cheerful.”
6: Opposites Attract
One American says they would understand people’s problem if we “gathered around the table and shared our favorite colonization stories,” but that’s not true. “I’m an atheist, and I celebrate Christmas,” they said. “I am not patriotic, and I celebrate July 4th. I married into a large native family, and we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a day, like most holidays, to be with family and eat.”
7: Keep It Simple
Another American takes issue with how consumerism has plagued Thanksgiving and the days leading up to it. “It has become more about consuming food and packaged goods,” they explain. “Black Friday sales and capitalism are just such a bruise on what used to be a pretty simple holiday with friends and family.”
8: That’s the Spirit
One American says they celebrate Thanksgiving with the sentiment it originally had. “Am I happy about the way our country’s forefathers treated natives? Absolutely not.” However, they note, “I don’t really think we have ever made up for it, and bigotry still exists towards them [Native Americans]. But that’s not what Thanksgiving is about.”
9: Things Are Different Now
While one person thinks the common teachings about Thanksgiving massively downplay the atrocities Native Americans faced from settlers, the holiday has evolved since then. Now, it’s a “family gathering/feast day with enough commercialism and sports tied to it that you can decently separate the practice and moral meaning.”
10: Remembering Wrong
Thanksgiving isn’t the only culturally important global tradition with uncomfortable roots, nor is it the only one to have morphed into something beyond its original cause. One American offered a quick history lesson. “I’m not even sure why that 1621 meal is what we relate to our current holiday,” they said. “It wasn’t even a nationally celebrated day until 1777.”
11: Just Rename It
One American says they’d be fine with doing away with the holiday and even suggests renaming it to Harvest Day. “The fall theme would still make sense, as would the stuffing of our faces, and I could see it making sense with our ancestors potentially celebrating a good harvest with a feast.”
12: Not the First Feast
Thanksgiving is hardly the first historically significant celebratory meal, one commenter says. “Canada also has Thanksgiving, but in October,” they point out. “It was brought over here, and now Thanksgiving is whatever we make of it.”
13: Nothing Special
Another person agrees that it’s just like any other harvest festival. And it’s “Not like Americans invented harvest festivals,” they said.
14: Clean Plate Club
One person who recently moved to America considers Thanksgiving the only time to sit down with other people and enjoy a long dinner and conversation. “It’s relaxing and part of the yearly ritual for me. So yes, I ‘celebrate’ it by eating all the food.”
15: Both Can Be True
Be cautious of propaganda in anything you learn, one person warned. “Most Americans can celebrate the holiday (which is more about family, togetherness, and thankfulness than history) while acknowledging the history of our relationship with the natives.”
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