Crisp leaves underfoot. Stinging fresh air. Roasted turkey. Glutinous stuffing. Fruity, creamy pies. Frantic airports. Family around the table. Football. Horns of plenty. Pilgrim pageants. The national folktale of our collective well-being. A day of gratitude.
Last year, two days in advance of celebrating a pandemic Thanksgiving stripped of communal trappings, I sat alone in my office and zoomed into SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) base-group training. Our ever-gentle facilitator, offered a prompt. “I’d like to open our space for anyone who wants to share their struggle with what is coming up on Thursday.” Matoaka is so thoughtful, ran through my head, giving people an opportunity to express the disappointment of a non-traditional Thanksgiving.
Wrong, conventional white man. So wrong.
An outpouring followed, of rage and disgust that this so-called ‘holiday’ exists. That we actually celebrate our decimation of Native peoples with this fantasy of peaceful community. Further masking the fundamental reality of our nation: violence.
I listened to the anger, I heard the pain of women (I was the only male in our training group) who suffered Thanksgiving as yet another form of erasure and oppression. I learned about The National Day of Mourning, a fasting ritual held every Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock to acknowledge the genocide of indigenous people.
I could not deny their truth or their anguish. But it didn’t resonate either. Yes: humans are cruel; power corrupts; and the winners write the history. But I cannot understand the value of agonizing our faults so deeply that they debilitate us. Rather, let us to enlarge our history to embrace voices silenced by simplistic myth.
I love Thanksgiving; I always have. Hands down, my favorite holiday. The least commercial, most collective celebration of our year. Acknowledging the blood seeped into the holiday’s origin story does not negate the grace embedded in giving thanks.
I give thanks for the abundance that blossoms when humans rise above base instinct; I revel in the bounty of coming together; I celebrate our potential: that one day the conqueror and the vanquished will embrace and move forward: in equity toward each other; in balance with our planet.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.