Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but I won’t be celebrating this year. And I’ll be teaching my toddler son exactly why I’m killing this holiday — in my heart at least. Because exactly what is there to celebrate again?
I have always loved Thanksgiving. There’s something about a day filled with food without the pressure to deliver (the perfect Christmas/Hanukah present, the perfect Halloween costume, the perfect New Year’s Eve party/sparkle outfit/Instagram post) that has always made Thanksgiving resonate with me. Plus, pie. Enough said.
As a child, I looked forward to Thanksgiving all year because it marked our most cherished exodus from New York City. My family would pile into our beat-up car and escape our tiny, semi-attached prewar home in the cement jungle known as Queens, New York. We’d arrive — either four or 12 hours later, depending on when we left — at our cousin’s stunning modern home in the woods of upstate New York. Fireplaces were lit, laughter echoed up to the cathedral ceilings, and we all enjoyed the glory of having multiple bathrooms to choose from — freed from our four-person family’s normal routine of elbows and scream-fighting over our single tiny shared bathroom.
But my favorite part of the tradition was waking up on Thanksgiving morning to the sounds and smells of a feast in the works. I’d wander sleepy-eyed downstairs to find my family flitting around in the kitchen, busy at work, wiping away flour and tears of laughter in equal parts from their faces as we watched the holiday-themed daytime news shows and shared embarrassing family stories while rolling out pie dough.
Those memories still warm my soul, even as family has moved farther away and dogs have died and kids have grown to have their own kids and branch off and away to celebrate elsewhere with their newly formed families. I still think of Thanksgiving fondly even though recent years involve mostly the stress of trying to corral the small number of slippery relatives or friends who might want to convene and then the expense and exhaustion of hosting at our small New York City apartment.
Yet Thanksgiving has always delivered me a dose of happiness regardless of my personal plans — because like many other Americans, I’ve carried with me the distinct understanding that we were celebrating some great, big historic kumbaya between Native Americans and the newly arrived pilgrims — a moment when both sides lay down their weapons and broke bread together. It was the first iteration of America’s melting pot — or so we were told. The great America, where anything was possible, a place where opportunity lay at our doorsteps. A place where you could spend an entire day thinking about people of different backgrounds coming together as one and then wake up the next day and elbow your neighbor to get the last flat-screen on sale at Walmart.
But guess what. It’s all a big, stinky, heaping pile of lies. Just like a lot of the rhetoric coming out of Washington at frighteningly higher levels than ever before. That’s why I’m killing Thanksgiving this year — and teaching my son the same.
Over the past couple of years, the awful political environment in our country has made me feel exponentially more disgusted to “celebrate” this holiday — and by doing so, to celebrate imperialism.
I can’t possibly enjoy jamming turkey down my throat while my tax dollars are spent on men with guns rushing to squash some pretend threat at the border (which consists of largely moms and babies, including newborns, making a dangerous trek for a chance at survival). I can’t stress over whether to have second helpings of pecan and apple pie while children in Yemen are literally starving to death, perpetuated in part by bombs my tax dollars paid to drop on their homes. I can’t smile at my child and feed him myths about how America was founded when Christopher Columbus “discovered” new land and made friends with the people he happened upon and shared turkey and fixings with.
And aside from the fact that the first European settlers didn’t discover new land so much as they ravaged the people who actually already lived here, spreading death and destruction and disease, they also didn’t invent Thanksgiving. The holiday actually has roots dating back to the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s and originally centered on celebrating and honoring the harvest. In fact, many other countries celebrate Thanksgiving as a harvest festival to this day, including Canada, Germany, Japan, Liberia and some Caribbean island countries. America, as with many other things increasingly, was late to the game.
The story we’re sold in elementary school about pilgrims and Indians and “the first Thanksgiving” in truth can be tied to very little. The most accurate parallel to the tall tale we’ve been told can be connected to a one-off gathering during the 1600s in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where European settlers had set up a colony, to celebrate a successful harvest. Members of the Wampanoag tribe are documented to have attended. Zero turkey was consumed. In fact, it wasn’t until nearly two hundred years later in the mid-1800s that anyone in America started to refer to the event as Thanksgiving (due in good part to lobbying by one Ms. Sarah Josepha Hale, who claimed America had “too few holidays” and who also advocated for the increase of women’s access to education and careers in medicine). There is no chance the Pilgrims invented the damn holiday. But there is a great chance they gave the people who were from that land diphtheria and smallpox.
The only thing that’s truly American through and through? Our continued racism and bigotry — and our wondrous ability to create fake news, whether on Twitter, in doctored news footage or in our school’s history books.
I invite you — as I’m inviting my toddler son — to sit this one out with me.