In the age of TikTok, social problems that we used to only hear about in classrooms are entering our daily feeds. Thanksgiving has been a controversial holiday for me over the last few years.
In elementary school, I remember learning about the pilgrims. I’m sure the Native Americans were squeaked in there somewhere. Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Fourth of July were taught. Most of the other holidays are religious, so schools didn’t teach lessons about them.
As a Lutheran kid who went to Sunday school every week, I used to find it weird public schools didn’t incorporate religion into their curriculum. Now, I’m glad they don’t; only because I highly doubt they would equally include all the religions in their lessons.
After a few years, Thanksgiving was summed up in my mind as the holiday to give thanks for the pilgrims’ and Native Americans’ companionship. In college, my American Literature class crammed as much American history through literature as we could handle.
Sherman Alexie’s poem “At Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School” made me cry. Three of his poems were crammed into two pages within the anthology’s 1716 pages, and that spoke volumes to me. Like our whitewashed American culture, we’ve revealed a brief shadow of Native American culture, but that’s all we have room for.
Today, I see Native Americans posting on TikTok about standing up and being heard. Their culture has been undeniably muted in America, and I think that’s putting it gently. They post to keep our eyes open and remind us that our Thanksgiving tradition shackled to our culture is disguised as gold bracelets.
In 1863, Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday to be celebrated each year. Lincoln declared it after a Union victory at Gettysburg. Apparently it had been up for debate since George Washington’s presidency, but some (Thomas Jefferson) thought it wasn’t right to celebrate “a day of thanksgiving and prayer” in a nation that was supposed to keep church and state separate.
Our First Amendment starts with, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” and continues on to our other freedoms. Jefferson wrote this, which makes sense as to why he opposed national holidays including prayer. It’s eerie to think this is our first Constitutional law while our church and state are terribly intermingled.
Thanksgiving isn’t religious unless we choose to make it so, which is our own choice. What I can’t get comprehend is why we celebrate when what we were taught about it seems to be a lie. There was no peace in the time of pilgrims; they burned women alive for trying to heal sick people. If they did that to their own kind, then I’m not sure if I want to know what they really did to the Native Americans.
Apparently, the Friday after Thanksgiving is not only Black Friday (which originated from economic crises) but also Native American Heritage Day. I kind of wish we could change Thanksgiving into Native American Heritage Day. Of course, we can still give thanks for all of our good fortunes and companions, but we can also acknowledge the wound that deserves proper recognition.
Having this new holiday right after Thanksgiving seems to undermine its value. If anything, we should have it the day before so we can be reminded before our celebration of the true atrocity that happened. At least after 157 years of celebrating Thanksgiving, we’ve given a holiday to honor the Native Americans.
America has a bleak and beautiful history. We can’t progress as a society without helping some of these wounds heal. I don’t think sticking to a tradition originated on a lie, started during a civil war, is the way to evoke healing. I’d prefer celebrating for a more respectable reason, as long as there’s still corn and stuffing.
I do think giving thanks is a wonderful thing, and I think gathering with loved ones is sweet, no matter how dysfunctional the group may be. This year COVID-19 may help us feel more grateful than we usually are for health and obligatory gatherings.