Yesterday was the American holiday of Thanksgiving. I was never particularly taken with the children’s lore of Natives and Pilgrims making peace over shared food as I was always made aware by my academic and sometimes cynical parents about the genocide of Natives and the problems of imperialism.
As a teenager, what I observed most was the sheer gluttony of the holidays; an abundance of food while, in much of the world, people go hungry – we as Americans consume until we enter “food comas”, only to be brought out of them by early morning sales the next day as another display of gluttony and consumerism pervades our collective culture – Black Friday.
I am aware of all of this, this week. I know that Europeans came to the New World, bringing with them arrogance and disease, and they wiped out, relocated and Christianized Natives. I know that we eat way too much food and watch overpaid athletes on the television and see commercials telling us to get to the stores early and buy, buy, BUY.
I also know I spent the last seven years working a retail job over the holidays, during which I had to deal with the behavior and attitudes of people often at their worst (and sometimes at their best). I know how I never got to relax in the days surrounding the holidays, as mall hours extended and I was up before the sun on Black Friday and would get home around midnight on other days during the season. Last year, like this one, I was living 3,000 miles away from my family, and my job would not let me take any days off around the holidays (they call it a “blackout period”) to see them; but this year, unlike that one, I no longer work there.
So I’m home for Thanksgiving. I have the whole week and weekend off, and I’m actually able to relax. In solidarity with Occupy Wall St, I’m not doing any holiday shopping today, Black Friday, except at local, small businesses.
Over the years I’ve begun to realize that Thanksgiving is what you make it. Yes, gluttony is obnoxious, consumerism is gross, and genocide is evil – but my Thanksgiving holiday isn’t really about any of that (though my next statement sure will sound gluttonous….).
You see, in my mother’s kitchen a few hours before dinnertime yesterday there was: a 16 lb turkey filled with stuffing, 9 lb spiral sliced ham, 6 lb prime rib beef roast, 4 lb boneless pork roast, beef gravy and turkey gravy.
As well as homemade cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, au gratin potatoes, green beans, cheese-filled tortellini, nine vegetable curry, rice, spinach pie, feather rolls, date bread, carrot bread and soda bread.
Plus brownies and pecan pie and spanish custard and apple cider.
Our guests brought salad, a spicy veggie green bean casserole, cherry pie, two pumpkin pies, gluten-free apple pie and lots of whipped cream.
Oh, yes, the guests. That’s the point – the amount of food we have would be ridiculous if it wasn’t for them. Besides my mother, two older brothers, sister-in-law and myself, there are another fifteen people joining us – anybody who needs or wants a place to celebrate the day with friends and community. My mother runs an “orphan’s table”, where anyone is welcome.
People should be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with those who care about them (if they want to celebrate it at all). They should have good company, a full plate, and in that moment, nothing they want that they don’t have. It’s a moment to be thankful for what one has, to deliberately appreciate it.
We have a heavy table and a full home, good friends and more to share – in fact, part of our traditions is making sure that everybody has a few meals worth of food to bring home in Tupperware, to send the bounty of the occasion out to their homes, extending our familial circle, sharing within our community.
Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday. Over the course of my life I’ve felt strongly about the symbolism in various degrees and directions, I’ve been indignant, celebratory, even ashamed. But I really like getting together with my friends and family. I like that we have a dinner table that doesn’t turn anyone away – and that I get e-mails around Halloween saying “your mother’s house for Turkey Day, see you there?”
Thanksgiving is what you make it. We make it a day to enjoy what we have with people we love. Make it what you want. You don’t have to forget or gloss over the history that brought us here, nor do you have to accept the consumerism of the weekend – you simply need to choose to do what makes you happy. That’s supposed to be the essential American way, right?