Thankful for Thanksgiving

macaroni and cheese

Editor's note: This is one of several thought-provoking articles we are reposting for your holiday reading. This article was originally published Nov. 25, 2009. Your comments are welcome.

While I don't care much about Columbus Day (except that there's no school, which when my kids were younger was a pain in the ass...), I do like Thanksgiving. As do most people in our country, who gather every year in all kinds of different arrangements and combinations, for an overdose of the four Fs: food, family, friends, football.

I mention these two holidays because they are among the most maligned by some on the left end of the political spectrum (along with the 4th of July), because of their connection to the European colonization of the Americas.

Make no mistake, the arrival of the Europeans, for which Columbus is ostensibly celebrated in October, was disastrous for the millions of Native American people living here.

It was, indeed, genocide, both intended and unintended. In his book, "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus," Charles C. Mann argues that the impact of the Europeans was even more catastrophic than previously thought, and that there had existed large, thriving civilizations. He points to new archeological work that hints at how developed and widespread were the accomplishments of the people whose societies were destroyed.

I highly recommend the book -- it's a thought-provoking read.

But does anyone celebrate Thanksgiving because it symbolizes European colonial triumph? Don't millions of Americans celebrate the holiday - simply because it's a day to relax, (over)eat and enjoy the company of others?

And if the Thanksgiving "story" is oversimplified to the point of ridiculousness (Pilgrims are rescued by Indians, and share a meal together), doesn't it also have things to recommend it? The paired images of collective suffering and human solidarity; the celebration of fall, the harvest, nature's bounty; expressing appreciation for comfort and company.

This is what most people would say is the meaning of Thanksgiving (Although many of us are probably preoccupied with other questions: Pumpkin or pecan, or both? Where can I get some folding chairs? Should I go back my diet on Friday or Monday?)

Besides, Thanksgiving, like all of the other holidays celebrated in our multicultural, multiracial country, has been transformed over time, and like the country itself, has expanded and embraced new cultures and traditions. Hence the interesting ways to prepare the bird, like jerked turkey. Or that for some people, Thanksgiving isn't complete without macaroni and cheese, for which I'm pretty sure neither Indians nor Pilgrims had the recipe.

And here's another good thing about Thanksgiving: despite the best efforts of marketing and retail companies, it is still relatively un-commercial. You don't have to buy anything (except the food) and you don't have to decorate (ok, maybe some corn on the door, plus housecleaning if you're hosting). And that's a good thing for struggling families. Thanksgiving is an opportunity - in fact, practically an obligation - to get together and enjoy a day off. And for a lot of people, it's a 4-day weekend.

So I say to those who only see the "glass-half-empty" of Thanksgiving and other American traditions: if we can't point to what's positive in our history and culture, people won't hear us when we talk about what's negative.

And if we can't share the pride that working people have in those things, we won't be effective participants in the social movements that have expanded democracy and rewritten our country's history and traditions, and will do so going forward.

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  • Good article. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday!

    Posted by Greg LaMotta, 12/01/2014 9:26am (21 days ago)

  • as someone who likes to cook and eat, who enjoys being with family and friends, i see thanksgiving as a wonderful time for getting together for a feast.
    but for some this weekend is overshadowed by sadness due to the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, illness and worse.
    thanks to those who prepare neighborhood feasts for those who are alone and/or broke.
    thanks to those who answer hotlines for the desperate.
    thanks to those who any day of the year are working for the better world that is possible and necessary.

    Posted by Barbara Chicago, 11/26/2014 12:22pm (26 days ago)

  • Just one more note:

    The Thanksgiving holiday is the start of the consumerist season. As a local NYC labor leader used to say, "The Christmas season, starting the day after Thanksgiving, is no a religious holiday. It is a retail holiday."

    Thanksgiving Day is seen as the day you peruse the ads in the newspapers to go out the next day at 4 AM or earlier to make a line to get as much as you can for as cheap as you can. Of course, the merchandise is limited and the retail establishments want you to come in and buy everything else using the cheaper products as bait.

    Posted by José A Cruz, 11/28/2009 4:43pm (5 years ago)

  • I guess that we don't know the same leftist. I cannot think of any folks I know on the left that don't like Thanksgiving. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

    Here in Massachusetts there are non-native leftists who joined with the Wampanoag people (the same who supposedly had a "thanksgiving" dinner with the pilgrims and then were warred upon by the same pilgrims) in their protest.

    Since 1970, the United American Indians of New England have been having a "Day of Mourning" protest in Plymouth, Mass. to call attention to the plight of the native peoples of the Americas. They regard the thanksgiving as a betrayal.

    However, holidays and their meanings, no matter what happened historically, change with time. That is the case of Thanksgiving.

    The same happened with the so-called "Columbus Day" holiday. In most of the countries of the Western Hemisphere, October 12 is conmemorated as "Día de la Raza" - a day which celebrates the start of the emergence of the new nations of the Americas. Fidel Castro actually wrote about this dichotomy a number of years ago.

    Frankly, this process and development of new nations was put into place starting with Spanish (as well as Portuguese) imperialism in what became known as America (not to be confused with the USA).

    To be against the Día de la Raza or Columbus Day one would have to speak out against the existence of the Mexican, Puerto Rican, Argentine, Uruguayan, and other nations of the Americas. One can also extend this to the US nation and declare it as illegitimate.

    To so so, however, is to deny reality.

    So while we can use both Thanksgiving and Oct 12 to underline the issues that still affect the original peoples of the the whole hemisphere, we can still celebrate other aspects.

    Let us remember that Thanksgiving is in reality a celebration of the fall harvest. Peoples like the Hebrew tribes, the Chinese, Egyptians, Romans and others have historically had celebrations of the harvest with plenty of food before the start of the harsh winter season.

    Posted by José A Cruz, 11/28/2009 4:34pm (5 years ago)

  • hi gary thanks for your thought provoking ideas we can certainly agree what constitutes a class i still think too many of us on the left do not engage enough in listening to ordinary working class folks which in my opinion is one of the contributing factors to our isolation (besides the lingering cold war atmosphere and the continual radiacal right wing propaganda) i think this was the idea behind the article on thanksgiving to get us to think about our countries history in solidarity jim

    Posted by jim, 11/28/2009 12:04pm (5 years ago)

  • for gary gee i guess i missed something as an auto worker i don't no any one like u r writing about. i think most people go out on black friday to save a few bucks on gifts for their loved ones.( just like those of us who use coupons for groceries and look for discoounts) yes the media ( liberal and conservative) play up these stories but what about the millions of ordinary workers who don't stomp security guards but enloy the holidays with their families? finally what other class is going to give leadership to a better world? is that not the "real class" and while we r at it what constitutes a class any way? in solidarity jim

    Posted by jim, 11/27/2009 8:00pm (5 years ago)

  • hi elena very good article and timely i think ur rite too many folks on the left don't appreciate our wonderful and glorious history of struggle i think the main reason for this is too many on the left r isolated from working class people and don't take the time to listen not just talk but listen to what folks r really saying any way happy thanksgiving and happy holidays in solidarity jim

    Posted by jim, 11/27/2009 3:52pm (5 years ago)

  • We could add that Thanksgiving was made a holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of one of the major progressive projects, elimination of Southern slavocracy

    Posted by Rosalio Munoz, 11/27/2009 12:07pm (5 years ago)

  • I am thankful for articles like this one.

    Posted by Rosalyn, 11/25/2009 6:26pm (5 years ago)

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