Thursday, November 26, 2015

What Does Thanksgiving Mean to You?

I have an acquaintance who actively refuses to celebrate Thanksgiving because she won't waste one iota of her time contributing to the misinformed adulation of the American mythology of peace, love, and happiness between the Pilgrims and the Wompanoag people.

I know this acquaintance is not alone in making this political statement. And I think it is a foolish one.

Yesterday, National Public Radio aired a story on how to teach children about Thanksgiving in light of the holiday's muddy history. They offered two concrete ideas for using the holiday to:

1, Introduce children to different cultural (national and ethnic) expressions of gratitude. Thanksgiving, celebrated by in countries beyond the U.S., is but one way. (Did you know that President Abraham Lincoln made the U.S. Thanksgiving a national holiday in an effort to unite the country during the Civil War?)

2. Invite learners to explore the (lowercase) pilgrim experience, by exploring what it means to be a refugee or part of another oppressed people. This discussion could certainly veer in to the realm of Native American politics, by using the Trail of Tears as an example, or present day politics through an age-appropriate focused on the global reaction to the crisis in Syria.


Thanksgiving, for me, is not a joyful holiday, but rather a reflective one.

While I enjoy spending time with family over a beautiful meal, that's not what defines Thanksgiving for me. Nor do the secular expressions of the national holiday make my heart go pitter pat - football, parades, the Christmas frenzy that follows.

Instead, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to express of gratitude for the privileges I enjoy, while raising my awareness of the privileges denied to many due to poverty, inequality, and injustice. It is a holiday I can observe while sipping a cup of coffee in the early hours of the morning as easily as I can celebrate it while enjoying a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

BMG was released from the hospital on Tuesday, after a 4.5 day stay for treatment of complications related to his Crohn's Disease. Today I'm thankful for my access to the highest quality health care, my ability to work in a job that provides good health insurance, my husband family, who has the means to pay for the best possible care and accommodations, and for the network of friends and family who I can call for moral and practical support.

Conversely, for the duration of BMG's visit to Brigham and Women's, I thought of the families that would be financially devastated by a 5-day hospital stay and all it entails; the people who don't have adequate health insurance to help bear the costs; and the people who don't have family who can work remotely or spend the night, so they are with a loved one night and day.


I'm curious. Do you celebrate American Thanksgiving? If so, what are the rituals that you love the most? And why?

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