I don’t like Thanksgiving. I never have. I’m not fond of my family and I’ve never even liked the food. Even since the number of attendants dropped to just immediate family (long before the age of COVID), I still hate it. My mother has a bad habit of making every holiday about her. Thanksgiving is a big one because, for her, it stands as a painful shift in her life. When she was 19, her father passed away on Thanksgiving of a heart attack. I can give her room to mourn and address the loss, but every year, it becomes such a rage-filled event that I wish she’d just stop celebrating it. I can’t not go. I live too close to have a good reason not to even with COVID. She won’t accept help, but she’ll be sure to tear everyone down for not helping. It’s like that every day, but with the pain in her heart, it’s amplified and I’m not strong enough to handle it. So far, so… tepid, but we’ll see. It could all come to a head tomorrow rather than today.
Even as a child, I never resonated with the “meaning” or “origin” of Thanksgiving. The idea is to be with people we care about and celebrate being grateful for the year before, or, more technically, the bountiful harvest that farmers collected then sold off to a distribution house which sent it across the world and then maybe came back to our local grocery store. Unlikely. There’s a lot of “non-local” onions around here in the “Onion Capital of the World”. Go figure…
The Tropes of Thanksgiving
When I was a little kid, I’d hear things like:
- I’m grateful for my health
- I’m grateful for my home
- I’m grateful for my job that allows us to live this wonderful life we have
- I’m grateful for my family
- I’m grateful for my family’s health
- I’m grateful for living in the best country in the world
Let’s break that down against modern standards.
“I’m grateful for my health.”
Yeah, you better be because the second you need help, you’re either going to go bankrupt or have to pray your insurance doesn’t retroactively drop you. Because yeah, that’s a thing here in the states. You pay these premiums you can barely afford just for the PRIVILEGE of MAYBE getting assistance when you need medical help. While insurance companies are actually very much allowed to not only not help you, but to drop you from their records entirely.
“I’m grateful for my home.”
They meant their house back then, but homeownership is on a decline due to stagnant wages and rising prices, but let’s adjust this statement to reflect any sort of home. Like an apartment or condo or something. Well, can’t really say that anymore since millions of Americans have been forced to go without housing assistance during a pandemic and the eviction moratorium is expiring. Tens of millions of honest citizens are about to lose their homes because the government couldn’t be bothered to help them at a fraction of the cost of the military budget. Or rather, the military-industrial complex budget. How much of that actually goes into the hands of our armed forces? Can’t be much since VA’s struggle and there’s practically no care for returning veterans. Our heroes until they come home and need help. GG America, you blew that one pretty hard.
“I’m grateful for my job…”
You mean the one that doesn’t pay you enough to live? The one you are on call for and have to prioritize over anything else including your own personal health or they’ll replace you? That job?
“I’m grateful for my family.”
I’ll give them this one. Being grateful for real family is important. And by “real” I mean the family you love and who mean something to you. The ones who support you no matter what. That kind of family. And no, they don’t have to be blood.
“I’m grateful for my family’s health.”
In this day and age, this rings more true than ever before.
“I’m grateful for living in the greatest country in the world.”
*See my rant at the end.
From the lowest to the middle-est class, similar sentiments were shared. We were to be grateful for what we had even though it was very “American” to want more. Be happy for what you have even if you can’t afford to properly care for your family or even yourself. Don’t think like that. You’re alive in America! You’ve won the global jackpot! Be grateful and accept your place as a workhorse that can’t even afford to house itself!
The Corporatization of Thanksgiving/The Sin of Black Friday
Thanksgiving used to be a guaranteed day off for workers. It steadily changed with the encroaching of the absolutely abhorrent capitalist holiday of Black Friday. For those unfamiliar, how could you be, it’s the Friday after the US Thanksgiving where every store on the face of the country runs “sales”. Having known someone in the corporate world who worked during this time of year, I know how it works. They raise prices about a month or two in advance and then drop them slightly under the original tag for Black Friday. Let’s be real, you really aren’t saving anything by trampling little Timmy for that 36″ TV. PLUS retail workers have been forced to work through this oh so sacred holiday for years now. By the uncomfortable grace of COVID, many stores are actually closing for Thanksgiving. Seems it took a pandemic for anyone to consider workers’ rights, but even then it’s more like “we don’t want to be responsible for people getting sick on a holiday” when you KNOW they’ll be open tomorrow!
It became normal and acceptable to have people working through the holiday. On the one hand, these very companies would tout togetherness and family and all that crap while on the other, they were keeping people from their families under threat of being replaced. My brother worked for a corporation that didn’t overtly say you’d get fired for not working holidays, but you knew that was the case. SOMEONE had to work and oftentimes it fell to the person most in need of the hours. This was usually the same person who was already working overtime and covering shifts constantly. What’s one more day on the grind?
And then there were the people who would ACTUALLY GO OUT on Thanksgiving to get in on Black Friday “super deals”. They ENCOURAGED this kind of behavior. They told corporations that it’s okay to keep people from their families as long as we can get that sweet sweet discount on that gaming keyboard you couldn’t sell for months.
See, there’s the hypocrisy. These people would spend time together, eat their dinners, then hop in the car and run to Best Buy or some other big box store and do their shopping while employees were likely there since much earlier in the day and have yet to go home to be with their families. A testament to the selfish nature of the American culture.
I could go on and on about how messed up the capitalist corporatocracy of America is and how the selfish nature of the average American sets us back as a modernized nation, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
What I Was Taught as a Child
As a child, I was taught that Thanksgiving celebrated an even wherein a Native American tribe, the Wampanoag, basically saved the lives of the pilgrims by teaching them about local produce and game which lead to the big “Feast of Thanksgiving”. Pretty nice huh? Really makes you feel like the relationship between the European pilgrims and the Natives should’ve been on good terms and co-existence should have been more than possible.
Turn the page in your textbook, and suddenly you’re reading about smallpox blankets and the Trail of Tears. As a child, a small, easily impressionable child, this made me so angry. In my simple mind the dissonance between “these people saved us” and “these people are savages we must purge” just did not compute. I hated the settlers. I hated what they did to the Natives. I hated their callous cruelty and sense of superiority. They could have tried so much harder to co-exist. They wanted a place away from judgment yet here they were judging and killing the Natives. Hypocrites.
And that was as a child. No, I’m not exaggerating. I’m lucky that in my school we had a very aware and progressive teacher who made sure the truth of Thanksgiving was taught. Everyone thought this woman was crazy, and as a kid, I kind of agreed, but as an adult, I’m glad she was there. As a teenager in high school, there was another equally progressive teacher who made DAMN sure we knew what reality was. It was interesting considering how small our school was and how nested in a conservative area of the state we are. It really made you very self-aware of the fact that the country you lived in was built directly on top of genocide.
The State of America
*My family emigrated to this country in search of a better life and, to be honest, they never really found it, but they were largely saved from the ravages of the World Wars. They chose to come here because of the American Dream. A thing which once existed for those of the right gender, sexual orientation, and complexion, but has largely died out. There is no American Dream anymore. The only reason to be grateful to be in this country is that even though we’re abused left and right by corporations and callous politicians, we at least have access to modern amenities. Forget the fact that health care costs are a leading cause of bankruptcy. Forget that more people die from not being able to seek medical help in this country than any other “First World” country. Forget that the minimum wage isn’t a living wage. Forget that prices have skyrocketed while wages have stagnated. Forget that racial tensions have been exacerbated by the fact that half this country elected a bigot into the highest seat of the land. Forget that police are murdering peaceful protestors. Forget that they murder people in their beds. Forget that we, as a nation, have elevated glorified gangsters to god-like infallible statuses. Forget that we’re caging refugees and taking their children from them. Forget that we’re deporting vulnerable people rather than providing a route to citizenship. Forget the fact that America doesn’t care about its citizens or anyone for that matter. Forget all that and yeah, America is a pretty great place. America is not great. It isn’t.
No. I am not thankful for the state of America or its history. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be part of actually making it great. There is no “Make America Great AGAIN” because America has always been an evolving experiment. There is no “again”, there is only the constant forward march toward betterment. It’s just a damn shame we’re so far behind other first-world nations. We really could be great if we actually decided to care about our neighbors and not lining the pockets of politicians and our corporate overlords (as I write this on WordPress and optimize it to be found on Google…).
National Day of Mourning
The United American Indians of New England have established “The Day of Mourning” to remember the genocide and ongoing abuse of Native Americans across the country. It was established in 1970 as a result of conflicting narratives regarding the origination of the holiday. It was the 350th anniversary of the pilgrims’ arrival and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts wanted to hold a commemorative ceremony with the Wampanoag tribe. Their leader, Wamsutta, wrote a speech that was in dire contrast to the brotherhood and unity perpetuated by American culture. His speech was barred and he abandoned the celebration. From that day on, it became a mission to better educate Americans about the circumstances of the creation of one of their holiest of holidays. (via Wikipedia)
Plymouth, Massachusettes has a cast plaque that stands as a permanent reminder of the ” National Day of Mourning”.
Also known as “The Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony” is a West Coast “event held on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to honor the indigenous peoples of the Americas and promote their rights” (via Wikipedia). This event has been occurring annually since 1975 in commemoration of the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz by the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement (ARPM). The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie dictated that surplus government land was to be allocated to Native Americans. Since Alcatraz was officially closed in 1963, that meant that according to the treaty, the land was to be returned to Native tribes. The ARPM occupied the land for 19 months (November 20, 1969 – June 11, 1971). During that time they were visited by members of the American Indian Movement. Inspired by the reclaiming of the land, the AIM went on to lead other protests against the sanitized version of the origin of Thanksgiving.
I know this was a bit of a meandering piece that hit on a lot of vastly different topics, but I felt the need to address some of the less-than-savory aspects of this holiday. Am I just some SJW lefty who wants to ruin the holiday for everyone? Well, if asking people to be more aware of its origin, how deceptive it is in placating the masses into acceptance of the status quo, and how it’s become a capitalist cancer on our society ruins the holiday for everyone, then… Yes. But I don’t think any of that should necessarily “ruin” anything. I think it behooves us as a nation always trying to move forward that we be more aware of these things. Do I hate Thanksgiving? Personally? Yes. Objectively? Not really… Do I think we should abolish Thanksgiving? Not necessarily, but I would like people to be more aware of what Thanksgiving means in the real world and not just what it means in the isolated realm of their homes. Acknowledging reality doesn’t mean you have to give up something you love. Thanksgiving has become more than a celebration of the pilgrims’ feast with the Natives. Its come to mean family and togetherness and being grateful for your life. For as sarcastic and facetious as I was at the start, gratitude is a very important thing. You’re alive. You may not live in the best place in the world, but you are alive and, hopefully, some of your family is, too. If you are alone today, my DMs are open on Twitter and Instagram. I can listen if you need an ear. I do think that a day of coming together is very important, but please do so safely in the face of COVID-19. Call the people you love. Make yourself something nice to eat.
Feel free to message if you need/want, but be advised, I might be at my mandatory blood-family gathering. I hope you can find something in your heart to be thankful for. If nothing else, you are alive and that matters more than anything else. 2020 has been a nightmare for everyone. You are not alone.