As with most holidays, Thanksgiving has historic origins — but unlike most holidays, popular interpretations of Thanksgiving's origins are, for the most part, false.
Still, for many, the day provides a reason to come together with family, to share a delicious meal with loved ones (or suffer awks conversations with relatives you'd rather avoid). However, as this year is going down differently anyway thanks to the ongoing pandemic, it's about time that we really start looking at Thanksgiving's history and reconsider whether we should be celebrating the day at all.
Below we've outlined the brief but horrific history of Thanksgiving, along with suggestions for alternative ways to mark the day.
The messed up history of Thanksgiving
The well-known story of Thanksgiving is an account of how the English pilgrims and Native Americans came together for a celebratory meal in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This wholesome tale has long been debunked for its historic inaccuracies.
In fact, if you look at it historically, this holiday is more of a celebration of racial genocide than a moment bridging racial divides. Some historians pinpoint 1637 as the true origin of Thanksgiving, owing to the fact that Massachusetts colony governor John Winthrop declared a day of thanksgiving to celebrate the colonial soldiers who had just slaughtered 700 Pequot men, women, and children in what is now Mystic, Connecticut.
Discussions on the historical origins of Thanksgiving tend to approach from the perspective of colonial settlers, rather than that of Native Americans, whose story on American land far predates it being stolen by settlers who brought both disease and violence.
There are many versions of what the first true Thanksgiving looked like, but whichever you choose to go with, it probably ends with the genocide of thousands of Indigenous people. This is why this holiday season is understandably still very painful for Native Americans 400 years later.
Let's mark the holiday differently this year
Health experts have warned against traveling during the holiday season and advise finding virtual ways to celebrate with family. As of Monday, the US has reported more than 12 million coronavirus cases, and more than 257,000 coronavirus-related deaths, CNN reports.
"What most concerns me now is, you know, the immediate situation with people traveling from different places, coming home for Thanksgiving," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told PBS. "The possibility of exposing yourself and then going home to your home community for a wonderful traditional Thanksgiving holiday might actually, unfortunately, be a source of, or even amplification of, the surge."
So, let's please not fly across the country during a pandemic to gorge ourselves on turkey and gravy, it's just not worth it. Instead, consider using this year's break from standard proceedings to get a new perspective on the holiday and perhaps, how you choose to celebrate it.
Just enjoy the day off - How about you skip celebrating the brutal conquest of Native Americans altogether? If this sounds too radical, remember that where and when you spend your money is also a political statement — think about not supporting the Thanksgiving industry with your hard-earned coins. Not only does industry continue to support and propagate a false narrative of the holiday's origins, but it's also incredibly damaging to the environment due to the sheer amount of meat farmed, processed, and shipped.
Support Native-owned businesses - Native American businesses represent the smallest fraction of POC-owned small businesses in the US. If 2020 activism taught us anything, it's the power of putting your money where your mouth is. For starters, Beyond Buckskin has a buy Native list that you can refer to for your holiday shopping.
Educate yourself - It's important to incorporate more Native history and culture into your self-education (since the eduction system won't). For reference, the National Native American Heritage Month has compiled a guide to and go even further with this list of best Native American history websites.
Protect your mental health - For Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a reminder of a painful history and can be incredibly triggering. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has compiled a list of mental health resources for members of Native and Indigenous communities.
Even if you choose to go ahead with a socially-distant Thanksgiving, for many of us it's hard to navigate challenging family dynamics during the holiday season. So if you're dreading those awkward or infuriating conversations with family members, prioritize your mental health with Psychology Today's tips.