Wednesday, November 23, 2016


As an expat the only time I am homesick is Thanksgiving. My memories are of high school football games in bitter cold and a wonderful meal cooked by my grandmother and later by my father and stepmom with tons of aunts and uncles around. We didn't have family strife. Ideal, really.

I still check and see who won the Reading/Stoneham and the Boston Latin/English football games. If I can get a bit of the Macy's Day parade on an international news station I tune in.

On some Thanksgivings I have spent in Europe there was nothing. It was just an ordinary day, although one of my coworkers had her mother bake a pumpkin pie for me one year.

The last few years friends and family have gathered at a nearby restaurant that does a dinner as good as my grandmother did.

And I give thanks for all that I have.

On the other hand I am aware of the history behind Thanksgiving, which was reinforced by this essay from Robert Jensen.

“Are you the guy who hates Thanksgiving?”

The man posing that question on my voicemail continued with a sharply critical comment about one of the essays I have written in recent years about the holocaust-denial that is at the heart of that U.S. holiday. My first reaction was not to argue but to amend: “I don’t hate Thanksgiving—I just think it’s appropriate to critique a celebration that obscures the reality of the European conquest of the Americas.”

That description is accurate, at one level—my rejection of Thanksgiving is more intellectual than emotional, a political decision to reject that distortion of history. Whatever the actual details of the 1621 celebration involving Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians (and there is ongoing debate about various factual claims), Thanksgiving is one way the dominant culture minimizes or denies the larger historical context of Europeans’ genocidal campaign against indigenous people to acquire the land base of the United States. Without that genocide, there is no United States. For the victors’ descendants to take a day off to give thanks without acknowledging that seems, well, just a bit sociopathic."

The attacks on the Indians aren't over. Today water cannons were turned on the Indians in North Dakota defending their sacred land against a pipeline in freezing temperatures. I wonder if the government would ever allow a pipeline thru Arlington National Cemetery?

Jensen also wrote, "And whatever one’s personal relationship to the holiday, the political question remains: Why is it “normal” in the United States to celebrate a holiday that is based on a profound distortion of history?" 

This year, I will still celebrate and give thanks with my friends and husband. It does not mean that I celebrate the horrendous actions of the settlers or the government today and yesteryear.

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