Is it Problematic to Celebrate Thanksgiving?

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should you celebrate thanksgiving?

If you were educated in the average American school system, you were probably taught the standard “Pilgrims arrive in new land and friendly local First peoples welcome them with open arms and bounties of food” Thanksgiving story.

It all sounds so pleasant, right?

how i feel about thanksgiving

In my family, we celebrate Thanksgiving. In fact, we celebrate Thanksgiving hard. It is literally a week long affair, starting with thanksgiving shopping at the beginning of the week. It is always at my grandmother’s house. The tables are loaded with pumpkin and sweet potato pies, stuffing and dressing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, succotash, yams (still a constant debate on adding marshmallows) baked beans, cornbread, wild rice, greens, BBQ ribs, smoked turkey, ham for everyone who didn’t like turkey, chicken for everyone who didn’t eat pork, and about 26 different recipes of Mac and cheese.

Here’s a napkin, you’re drooling.

Thanksgiving is the only time my very strange and very different family all get together to sit down, catch up, and be grateful we still have a place to gather. That and, well…funerals. BUT Thanksgiving for the festivities.

Then there’s usually card games, a piñata (there’s always a piñata), older cousins going for “walks” around the block, karaoke, people showing off their latest shoes/cars/passport stamps/spouses/children’s report cards/literally anything. And A LOT of dancing.

It’s straight-up lit.

The first “Thanksgiving,” however, wasn’t so lit. *cue lights dimming*

Let’s go back to the American Thanksgiving scene. Yes, see, this is even the first image I found on google.

thanksgiving is a lie

We have a pretty decent idea who the Pilgrims were, though they didn’t call themselves Pilgrims back then. But what about the other side of the lovely scene? The Wampanoag are the ancestral people of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Wampanoag have lived there for at least 12,000 years (called Aquinnah, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard). For pronunciation purposes, the most common pronunciation of Wampanoag is either WAMP-ah-nog or wamp-a-NO-ag, with wamp rhyming with stomp.

Go ahead, say it aloud. Wampanoag.

Feel good?

Okay, let’s continue.  

The Wampanoag people had their “Thanksgiving” celebrations WAAAYYY before any white dudes showed up. In fact, there’s multiple celebrations of thanks and harvest celebrations. Thanksgiving, as a concept, is not new.

Before 1616, their population spanned 60k-100k strong. But with the introduction of plague and disease, decimating entire communities. Others were captured by Europeans and captured or lured onto ships and sold into slavery in Europe. By the time the Pilgrims showed up in Cape Cod, only about ⅓ of the community was left.

To put it shortly, the Pilgrims were very ill prepared for their new life. Especially since, conveniently enough, none of them were real farmers. With winter rapidly approaching, and the added population brought in from the Mayflower, the Pilgrims resorted to stealing food from Wampanoag storehouses and robbing graves for goods. Even then, about half of them died within the year.

A man by the name of Tisquantum, a Pawtuxet (site of Plymouth), had been kidnapped and sold into slavery. He escaped, but learned the extreme damages that the plague had brought to his people, so he stayed with the Wampanoag. He had also learned English. Tisquantum was key for teaching the Pilgrims how to grow their own food. The Wampanoag and the English (because the Pilgrims were not their own ruling nation) entered into a treaty. Basically, it was a “y’all protect us, we’ll protect you,” sort of pact. Purely political, they weren’t best friends and adding each other on WhatsApp or anything.

Fast forward a few months to the first “Thanksgiving.” It was the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest, woohoo! Oh, AND ALSO a colony of English men had just returned safely from Mystic, Connecticut. What were they doing in Mystic, Connecticut? Mass slaughtering the disarmed Pequot people. HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE. They weren’t defenseless immigrants. They were colonizers. And they were starting to get the hang of things in the “new world.” So the Pilgrims threw a party and shot guns in the air – yanno, as they do.

Hearing gunfire, the Wampanoag were like, 

suspicious gif

Err…what’s going on?? Is this an attack? An attack on us? Is it on the Pilgrims?

So they went to investigate.

The Wampanoag stuck around the area for a few days, just to make sure. So they ate their own food and entertained themselves. I wasn’t there personally, but idk, doesn’t sound like the picture to me. From either side, Pilgrim or Wampanoag, there was no mention of both parties sharing bread, let alone having a karaoke battle and passing a blunt around.

That was that. It was very insignificant in the big picture.

Thanksgiving wasn’t even an OFFICIAL American holiday until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln used the theme of “Pilgrims and I**ians eating happily together,” to bring a sense of peace and tranquility during the Civil War.

BUT EVEN THEN –

Thanksgiving wasn’t really about that either. Industrialization during the Progressive Era (1890-1920) contributed to the United States becoming a major global power. With global power comes immigration. With immigration comes a thunderous echo of nationalism from that country. America followed the same recipe. Protestant Americans felt threatened by the new influx of European immigrants. The Protestant Americans worried about being displaced.

SO, using good ol’ colonial ideology, Protestant Americans deemed what it meant to actually be “American.” Being American meant overcoming hardships. Our shared history were the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock and sowed the seeds of the greatest nation in the world. And thus birthed this gentle story of the Pilgrims and the Indigenous people sharing food and land and creating

*~*A M E R I C A *~*

To that, I say :

Knowing all that, it might feel a little weird to “celebrate” Thanksgiving. But in my humblest of opinions, throw out that gross narrative. It’s fake and trash anyway. BUT, you don’t have to throw out what brings us together. Refocus your celebration. What is Thanksgiving ACTUALLY about to you?

Generosity. Humbleness. Gratitude. Family.

And yanno – like a crap ton of food.

What’s not to love about food?!? ESPECIALLY SINCE MOST OF IT IS INDIGENOUS FOODS ANYWAY. Think about it. Corn. Squash. Beef/bison stew. Turkey. Yams. UM – SUCCOTASH, literally a Narragansett sohquttahhash word for “broken corn kernels.”

I would take a bullet for my grandmother’s succotash.

So, I’m all for Thanksgiving. I know it’s dark and hidden past. I know of the extreme injustices faced by America’s Indigenous communities and I keep my ears and heart open to discussions. Still, I don’t think of Thanksgiving as “Pilgrims and I**ians.” Nor do we celebrate the textbook Thanksgiving. I think of it as a time my family can see each other, eat food, and enjoy the fact we are fortunate to see another day. 

I share the following perspectives, not to validate white guilt, but to show that even within Native communities, people have different opinions based on their experiences and culture. 

stǔttsiisoōkǎasim‏  on twitter writes :

im an american indian. i love thanksgiving. i know the real history of the holiday. i get the dark reality and the symbolism. still gonna eat that dark turkey meat like theres no tomorrow. life is always more complicated than politics, niiksookowaks. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

And one of the best articles I have read on the subject, written by Sean Sherman (founder and CEO of The Sioux Chef and the author of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen), writes why he, as a Native American, celebrates Thanksgiving.

YOU NEED TO READ IT HERE.

THAT SAID – it is MORE THAN UNDERSTANDABLE that people refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving. In the 1970s, Frank James, an Aquinnah Wampanoag, was supposed to give a speech during the 350th anniversary of Pilgrims landing in America. James recalled the loss of language, land, culture, and life of Wampanoag and Native people in America. In a closing statement, he called for a new beginning:

“Our spirit refuses to die. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the aggressor. What has happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane America. You the white man are celebrating an anniversary. We, the Wampanoags, will help you celebrate in the concept of a beginning. It was the beginning of a new life for the Pilgrims. Now, 350 years later, it is a beginning of a new determination for the original American: The American Indian.”

WHEW – I just got chills. However, they pulled his speech for being “too real.”  

In response to the banning of James’ speech delivery, activists for the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupied Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. The National Day of Mourning, as it is now known, is an annual event. “It is in memory in remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”

You can read the entire speech and learn more about the National Day of Mourning here.

Most recently, the Department of the Interior ruled to revoke sovereignty from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. THIS IS HAPPENING IN 2018 Y’ALL. Along with stripping reservation land, it will also restrict the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s ability to self-govern and and threaten the Tribe with disestablishment.

Please understand someone’s point of view for not celebrating a holiday founded on whitewashing, murder, and erasure. I didn’t write this to convince someone who does not want to celebrate to “ReF0CuS ThEiR BelIEFs.” I wrote it just as a personal essay of what I think. I am not a historian, a politician, or a spokesperson for anyone but myself. 

“How can I be an ally on Thanksgiving,”

You may be wondering. First of all, do not question someone’s reason to not celebrate Thanksgiving. You don’t know their life or their family’s background. Know the actual history of Thanksgiving. SHARE the actual history. Offer support. Be present for conversations, but hand the mic to  Native and Indigenous people to share their perspective. AND BE RESPECTFUL.

If you are in the United States of America, you are on indigenous land.

Remember that.

Acknowledge and respek.

That said, it can be an emotionally draining time for some. Don’t expect someone to answer all your questions on the subject. Especially a stranger on the internet.

Honestly, it’s not difficult or confusing to be an ally. It’s LITERALLY just being a decent human. And be open to feedback! You can totes manage that.


What are your thoughts on celebrating Thanksgiving? If you do celebrate, what are your family’s traditions? If you don’t, do you have any alternative traditions instead? Those of you not from the USA, does your country have a Thanksgiving? And most importantly, what’s your dish of choice? My top 3 are succotash, dressing, and mashed potatoes. Let me know in the comments below!


Info gathered from : News Maven

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2 Comments

  1. Kai Greene says:

    This was a great read! I am not a fan of Thanksgiving and I think gratitude should be a daily practice. This was still eye opening and I loved the different perspectives presented.

  2. Good Vibe Mike says:

    Love it! Dig the way you speak to both sides and I agree: whatever the history, I think it’s amazing to spend time being grateful and hanging with the fam, plus YAHKNOW, food.

    And I agree, being an ally is totes easy if you’re a decent human being. We used to call that the Golden Rule.

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