Rethinking the Celebration Behind Your Turkey

Thanksgiving has evolved to be a holiday where we celebrate family and blessings. Modern Day Thanksgiving is typically full of parades, processed foods, napping, and football. Personally, our family enjoys the holiday by departing from hectic life and work schedules to enjoy one another’s personality quirks in the name of giving thanks for the many blessings that have come our way throughout the year; serendipitously or through hard work.

As you feast with your family this holiday, consider the following: (1) First, give thanks for ALL your blessings; you know they come in all shaped and sizes.   Better yet, rejoice in the blessings bestowed on others and do not have a jealous heart. (2) Second, acknowledge and give of yourself- your time, talents, resources, and/or money to those who need it. (3) Third, consider looking at life from a different angle. Viewing a forest from a hillside provides a very different understanding than viewing it from the ground amidst the trees. Just when you think you know or understand something, you have to look at it in another way. Even though it may seem silly, unnecessary, or wrong-give it a try. What you uncover might surprise you.

The harvest time that started the tradition of Thanksgiving was a far cry from our modern day Thanksgiving conveniences. I am sure if the pilgrims and Native Americans were zapped into 2012 they could not even fathom a complete Thanksgiving Feast for $49.99 from a local chain restaurant. Likewise, if we transported ourselves back in time to the “first” Thanksgiving, we would probably find a story that played out very differently than what was taught in school. The first feast was probably tense because of the culture differences between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. And was most likely not a feast by today’s American standards, but was rather what the land and “harvest” had produced. There were no hormone injected turkeys, pumpkin pie out of a can, or gel cranberry sauce.  No black Fridays; well, I guess every Friday was black in the sense they did not have electricity. Perhaps, William Loren Katz the author of “Black Indians: a Hidden Heritage” will open your eyes to a different perspective on the Thanksgiving story and will provide you some food for thought as you baste your turkey and peel your sweet potatoes.  His article entitled “Rethinking the Thanksgiving Holiday” written in 2003 is below.

Since 1621 and Governor William Bradford of the Pilgrim colony of Massachusetts, Thanksgiving Day has been a political holiday. Usually wrapped in warm family and patriotic values, our rulers have shaped it to meet their needs. A presidential proclamation announces Thanksgiving each year, and relatives and friends sit down to turkey feeling they are participants in a moment rich in tradition and worthy of celebration.

But is this tradition something to celebrate? In 1620 Pilgrims from England aboard the Mayflower came ashore in Massachusetts. They were able to avoid disaster and starvation when the Wampanoag Nation brought them gifts of food and offered advice on planting, hunting, and fishing. Since half of the world’s crops had been planted by Native Americans and were unknown to Europeans, the Wampanoags brought the Pilgrims something of a miracle.

In 1621 after surviving their first wiffter, Pilgrim Governor William Bradford ordered a celebration. But Pilgrim thanks were not extended to the Wampanoag hosts but to their white God and deep Christian faith. If the Wampanoags were invited by the newcomers, who viewed them as inferiors and servants, it probably was to have them bring the turkey, corn and other delicacies, or serve the food.

If the Pilgrims learned any lessons about interracial cooperation in 1621, they were soon forgotten. In. 1637 Governor Bradford, who saw his colonists locked in mortal combat with dangerous Native Americans, ordered his militia to conduct a night attack on the sleeping men, women and children of a Pequot Indian village. To Bradford, a devout Christian, the massacre was imbued with religious meaning:

“It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same and horrible was the stink and stench thereof. But the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice and they [the Massachusetts militiamen] gave praise thereof to God.”

Reverend Increase Mather, Pilgrim spiritual father and still a hero in most U.S. textbooks, asked his congregation to give thanks to God “that on this day we have sent 600 heathen souls to hell.”

Other English colonists had landed in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, and almost immediately had trouble with their Indian neighbors. In 1619 a Dutch ship sold 19 African laborers at Jamestown, and the rulers of Jamestown treated both Africans and Native Americans as untrustworthy inferiors. In 1622, the year after the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, patience ran out for Virginia’s Native Americans. They staged a massive attack on Jamestown that took 350 lives, and reports historian James H. Johnstone, “The Indians murdered every white but saved the Negroes.” Even at this early date two peoples of color showed a willingness to unite.

In 1789 Thanksgiving was revived when George Washington as first president asked the U.S. Congress to make it a national holiday. By using the holiday’s mythology of generosity and cooperation, he sought to unify diverse ethnic and racial groups behind the new political experiment called the United States.

Thanksgiving then was forgotten until the Civil War again sorely tested the nation. President Abraham Lincoln had to deal with many Northern citizens who refused to support the war effort and his new emancipation policy. Pioneer feminist Sarah J. Hale, editor of a famous woman’s magazine, had little trouble convincing the embattled commander-in-chief that a unifying, humanitarian holiday could serve his political goals.

Thanksgiving again disappeared, until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, seeking to unify Americans threatened by a Great Depression at home and fascist aggression abroad, called on the country to honor the holiday. In 1941, the year the U.S. entered World War II, Congress decreed the fourth Thursday in November a Thanksgiving holiday.

Born and reborn as a unifying political symbol, Thanksgiving has glorified the European invaders, and accepted their oppression of people of color. But instead Thanksgiving could honor those Native Americans and African Americans who became our first freedom fighters, and the unity these two peoples often forged during 500 years of resistance. Their rich history of heroism and unity deserves a Thanksgiving holiday.

This story is far from what I was taught in school. It does not reflect cornucopias, plump pilgrim figurines, and colorful Native American figures that decorate our homes. Instead, the tale shows the struggles, biases, and illusions that we too often preserve today. I’m not asking you to throw you turkey out or forgo the holiday; I will be enjoying the day with family and over indulging in yummy food. However, I do ask you to consider and appreciate the fact, that sometimes history and events in our lives may not be what they seems or what we have been told. Thankfully, our country continues to change and become more diverse. I’m thankful for those brave souls that started the sometimes painful experiment of blending cultures and extending a hand of friendship.  Sharing our vulnerabilities, resources, and differences is what makes the world go round and gives us a great reason to celebrate with Tom the Turkey.

Today, my spoon is full of thanks for being blessed beyond measure. And I am humbled by the fact there are two sides (at least) to every story.

To access this document visit  Rethinking the Thanksgiving Holiday

Happy New Hallothanksmas Christgivingween Year!

This time of year begins the mad dash of holiday celebrations. From Halloween, to Thanksgiving, to Christmas, and finally we arrive exhausted at the dawn of a new year.  At retail stores we are greeted with an aisle of Halloween goblins and ghosts, then the next aisle is Thanksgiving scarecrows and turkeys, and around the corner are Christmas trees, Santas, and elves. Since we are on the topic of holiday decor- what I hate most are those darn blowup decorations for the yard. I would like to drive by homes and shoot them with a BB Gun one by one. Any ways, back on topic. It’s difficult to enjoy one holiday, without panicking that there is another one creeping right around the corner. Despite the maddening signs that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are near, I always enjoy the holiday season. Each holiday has special memories and traditions that I cherish.  For sentimental reasons and laughs, I will share some of our past and present traditions with you.

I wont’ bore you with 34 years of spooktackular costumes but a few that get honorable mention are Big Bird (Keep PBS!), a Cabbage Patch Kid, a Witch, a flapper, a mermaid (did that twice), a clown, a sock hopper, Chiquita banana, a pirate, a princess, and a cave woman. I am already scheming ways to get my toddler into his costume this year. Since I am a product of the 80s, every Halloween I think about the safety of candy. When I was a child there was a big campaign for trick or treaters to only receive store bought candy-no more homemade goodies. Crazy people started putting needles, razor blades, and drugs in homemade goodies. I guess you can say those kids were tricked and not treated. I remember after hitting up all of the Halloween stops, my brother and I would come home with bags FULL of candy. Then begin my mother and father “inspecting” the wrappers. I’m not sure but looking back, this might have been a ploy for stealing our candy. Luckily, most of our candy passed inspection. One of my favorite treats I received every year was a toothbrush and these red dental dot thingys from a local dentist. You were supposed to chew up the dots after you brushed your teeth to see if you missed any spots. I thought it was much more fun to eat as much candy as possible and then chew the dots to see how dirty my teeth really were.

As a child, our Thanksgiving, perhaps had the strangest tradition—dressing balls. This was a creation of my grandmother. What is a dressing ball you might ask? Well, its dressing that has been mashed into a ball shape and cooked rather than spread out in the pan. You might picture it as a sausage ball on steroids.  I am not sure why she created balls of dressing, but I think they were easy to shove in a grandchild’s hand to make sure we were eating something as we ran around playing. The children loved them, but the adults grew to love and expect them as well. Since her passing, I have been in charge of dressing, so I might bring back the balls for our toddlers to enjoy…and the adults too. They are awesome for leftovers. And lets be real, who can keep a straight face and not laugh when someone says, “pass the balls please.”

One invention that shaped the 80s was the hot glue gun. Really it revolutionized the world. I mean what can you not fix with a hot glue gun? One Christmas season, I remember my grandmother buying a hot glue gun and beginning the endless crafting of Christmas elves. My grandmother and aunt spent endless hours gluing together the elves with plastic faces they had purchased at a local craft store and cutting out and gluing together felt elf outfits-complete with shoes. Ironically, these elves look just like the now famous Elf on the Shelf. I swear someone stole that idea from my family. If we only thought to write a book about those darn elves-we would be millionaires by now and I would be writing this blog from an exotic island somewhere. We started the Elf on the Shelf tradition with our son last year. It seemed fitting to name the elf, Merle, after my grandmother.

One funny memory of Christmas I have is when my dad sent me and my aunt on a mission to buy my mom’s Christmas present. Really, this was an annual mission and we didn’t get a choice to accept or deny the mission. One year, my mother saw a giant, yes giant- a 6 foot, Santa Claus made of dried seaweed/sea grass that she had to have for her house. Seriously, why would anyone want this? This stupid Santa probably weighed 100 pounds. I was about eight years old and my aunt was 18 when my dad sent us to bring this jolly fellow home to my mom for Christmas. Oh, and I failed to mention the store was nearly an hour from our house.  You could imagine what we looked like driving down a major highway in a mini Ford Bronco while Santa’s bottom-half stuck out through the hatch. Every freaking year, my dad and I would hoist Old Seaweed St. Nick up and down from the attic so he could make his grand debut. We hated him and tried some years to break him as we shoved his big rump into the attic-it didn’t work.  I was never so glad to see that guy leave our family when my parent’s had an auction. We could barely give it away. I think it might have brought $5! As a matter of fact, my mom called during the auction and said “who bought Santa”? I have no clue who now has the privilege celebrating Christmas with Mr. Seaweed Santa…but to you I say thank you!

Each year on Christmas Eve, I always enjoy hearing my family whine and complain about a tradition I started a decade ago. Nothing says love like a complaining family. Trust me, they complain about this tradition, but I think they secretly like it. We all have a small notebook with our name on it that is stored in a special Christmas bag all year. Each Christmas Eve when we get together, I drag the bag out and distribute the books. The next 10 to 15 minutes is spent arguing over the “rules” of this tradition. Luckily, one cousin wrote the rules down in her book-so after we get tired of arguing, when all else fails, we decide to read the rules. Next, we write down the events/things we want to remember about the year and then write down what we hope for or are predicting for the next year. Can I just say that me having a baby was mentioned at least every year for the past 10 years! Now that we made that dream come true-they can move on to the next cousin! After everyone jots down their thoughts, we go around one by one sharing the entries from the previous year. You only share what you feel comfortable sharing and try to avoid those TMI (too much information) entries. Some items shared bring a good laugh, some a tear, and others a surprise because you forgot all about them. I am the keeper of the books and honor everyone’s privacy. Seriously, I do not read them. As a matter of fact, our grandmother’s book went to the grave with her.

New Years is spent with some dear friends from our college days. As a matter of fact, since 1999 (and yes we partied like it was 1999 that year), we have celebrated all but two New Year’s together. One year I can’t remember what happened and last year we had a sick kido.  We have celebrated so many together; it is a call of duty to continue the tradition. We have lots of fun stories from ringing in the New Year…honesty, too fun to share. Okay, since kids entered the picture, we usually don’t make it to see the ball drop, but we have a good time none-the-less. We are looking forward to ringing in another year together this year.

As you embark on celebrating the holidays, it might feel like they have all been smashed into one event called New Hallothanksmas Christgivingween Year—but none-the-less, take time to make traditions and enjoy life with the one’s you love…and even the ones you have to love because you’re family.

Today my spoon is full of thoughts of holiday memories and savory dressing balls.