When I was a child, this holiday meant coloring pictures of pilgrims and “Indians.” It meant singing Over the River and Through the Woods* at the top of my lungs with 25 other children. We heard stories of settlers, Native Americans, and a hard, cold winter. We were taught that the First Thanksgiving was a celebration of survival in rough conditions, shared between aboriginal peoples and the first Euro-Americans. We know now that this is a candy-coated fairy tale, and the true story is not as beautiful as the common table I envisioned when I was a little girl. As the true history reveals itself, the arrival of Thanksgiving becomes a time to challenge the status quo. For many, this day is a reminder of the cultural genocide that started with the arrival of that first group of European settlers. For others, it is a time to put on blinders and pretend the lovely little fairy tale is an accurate description of history. Between these extremes, Thanksgiving happens.
As time passed, Thanksgiving became a day to celebrate family and our closest friends. For many, it’s a time to celebrate football and food. For others, it’s a way to open the door on a new season. This is what Thanksgiving has come to mean to me. It is a time for family to gather, large or small, to break bread together and enjoy one another's company. I enjoy waking up early, preparing the meal and watching the traditional Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. When Santa passes on the screen, the secular “Christmas Season” is official for me. I like to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, the original Miracle on 34th Street, or the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol.
Once into the season, I enjoy saturating myself with holiday music, watching the cartoon specials I grew up with or watched with my children as they grew. One year, I introduced them to Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (which I watched from the time I was about 4), and we have watched it ever since. These past few years, I have sometimes watched these shows alone. I don’t mind. The love that I feel and the energy that is released when I watch them makes the time worthwhile. Thanksgiving is the beginning of a season that fills me – and thousands of others – with joy.
I support those who choose to make this day a time of remembrance for ancestors lost to cultural and real genocide; to blankets infused with smallpox, forced movement across the country, and being corralled into reservations. I am not blind to the history of this day. I do not ignore the truth, and will always acknowledge and educate whenever I have the opportunity.
On the other hand, I wish to declare this day as something new and separate from its history. I wish to declare this day a day of thankfulness for our own good things and the good things we can find in our history and in our current times. I do not wish to deny the happenings of our times; the racism, the sexism, the ageism, the hatred, the fear, and the frustrations that are so clearly evident in current events. I do not insist that we forget the dead children of Ferguson, of Cleveland, of America. I do not insist that we ignore the terrors of soldiers and civilians in the Middle-East, or of veterans shattered and lost in the system, or existing in the streets. I do not ask that we turn our backs on those who need, who hunger, or who mourn. I simply ask that in all the darkness, we look for the light; for there is light.
There is Light. I look for it and find it in the relationships I have with my family and my friends. When I find that Light I want to share it. I cannot march, I cannot give money, I cannot pull individuals, cities, or societies out of their darkness. What I can do is turn on my own light, and with that find the great Light that I can share with others. I can share it in my writing, in my actions, in the way that I interact with others I touch along my path. Yet I cannot share it if I do not find it. To find it, I need the nourishment of family, friends, and the coming season. My body, my mind, my heart, and my soul are fed by the rituals of my life.
Thanksgiving is one of these rituals. Allow me this, and I will have the strength to shine the Light and to share the burdens of darkness with those who carry it.
*For an excellent history of this song, actually a poem called "A Boy's Thanksgiving Day" and its impressive author, Lydia Maria Child, just click on her name!