Opinion: Is Thanksgiving Worth Celebrating?

Jiya Patel, Writer

Thanksgiving is a widely celebrated holiday in the United States. All around the country, individuals view Thanksgiving as a time of family and the opportunity to be grateful for life, the small things and the big. Children come home from school with turkey hats and a newfound love for the holiday. However, many Americans fail to see the darkness behind this “day of thanks.”

Most Americans view Thanksgiving in the same way. They are taught that centuries ago, the Pilgrims shared a feast with the Native Americans to give thanks for the successful harvest. However, what this glorification fails to portray are the nuances that are within in that narrative.

While the complete history of this holiday remains unknown to many, some of the common perception is true, the Mayflower did bring settles from England to Plymouth. However, the rosy image and quiet and peaceful perception people have of this holiday is not entirely true.

Because celebrations of the holiday often focus around the pilgrims, almost everyone fails to see it from the perspective of the Native Americans who had inhabited the land for centuries before the Pilgrims had arrived.

Thanksgiving was not about a unification between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. In fact, the Pilgrims had a reputation of mass killings and mistreatment of the indigenous people.

The truth is that despite the Native American’s initial desire to help the pilgrims survive, they were faced with only punishment in return.

Another lie is found in the misconception that the Pilgrims and Native Americans enjoyed a grand feast with one another. The real story points to the possibility that the newly settled Europeans didn’t invite the Native Americans to their feast. In fact, “thanksgivings” were usually celebrated by the Pilgrims when the indigenous people were murdered in mass numbers. An example of this is found in the instance of 1637 when Massachusetts Colony Governor John Winthrop declared a day of thanksgiving after volunteers murdered 700 Pequot people.

 

The unfair treatment of Native Americans doesn’t only include the massacres inflicted on them. To this day, individuals around the world celebrate the holiday in ways that are disrespectful and insensitive to indigenous people.

Many non-indigenous people take it upon themselves to dress in native clothing to “honor” the holiday. However, what they fail to realize is that despite good intentions, it is riddled with mockery and the uprising of painful memories for modern Natives. In fact, many indigenous groups view Thanksgiving less as a holiday and more of a day of tragedy and mourning. Many people gather at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth for an organized rally and day of tragedy instead of the much more common perceptions of a joyous feast.

As reported in nativehope.org, these Native Americans hold this viewpoint because, “Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”

However, does its dishonest and unprincipled origin mean that Thanksgiving should cease to be celebrated? Obviously, it’s not that simple. Centuries of families have created their own traditions and special links to this day. What we can do as a society, however, is do our best to be respectful to its origins and the individuals whose ancestors were negatively affected.

We can do our best to educate others about the misconceptions about this day and its origins. If we take it one step at a time, we have the chance to create a more educated civilization. Additionally, we can do our part in supporting Native American charities and organizations. We can make it a new tradition to honor and donate to these associations.

History can’t be unwritten, but we- as a society that has been trained to be more aware of the harmful origins of many modern traditions- can do our best to ensure that these indigenous people don’t feel disrespected anymore.

It’s time for change, and our generation is more than capable. Step by step, we can bring awareness to the dishonorable origins of this day in history. After all, nothing is more powerful than a group of empowered people who demand change.