11-27 Traditions and Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving.  As I’ve grown older, and the world around us has started to hear the voices of people who have been kept voiceless for generations, it is a holiday that is getting increasingly complex.

On one hand, it is the least “commercialized” mainstream holiday I can think of.  We don’t really send Thanksgiving cards, and there aren’t a bunch of ways of merchandizing the whole thing.  As I understand it, the holiday is a harvest feast in which we think of things we are grateful for and spend time with family – chosen or biological.

But like almost everything in American culture, the holiday is built around the silencing of voices of marginalized people.  The Wampanoag aided the pilgrims when they showed up from across the ocean.  Without the assistance of the Wampanoag, the pilgrims would not have thrived and very well might not have survived at all.  The atrocities that the Native tribes have since suffered at the hands of the colonizers turn this story from one of intercultural celebration to a fable of faithlessness and betrayal.

This year, Thanksgiving is bearing the additional burden of the first major indoor holiday of Covid.  It is the first in the string of the holiday season that lasts until mid-February and one of the holidays that almost everyone has off of work.  Most people plan to spend time with their families and friends around this week.  That is not a safe activity right now, especially in Minnesota.

Nine years ago, Jason and I shared pumpkin pie and boxed mac and cheese for Thanksgiving.  We cooked both on an open fire.  They were delicious.  Seven years ago, I spent the afternoon cooking American-style foods using South Pacific ingredients and shared a meal with about twenty other volunteers.  Five years ago, we had 4 Thanksgiving dinners spaced out all week with different aspects of our family. Last year, I went to Delaware and spent Thanksgiving among the raucous noise that is my family.  I slept on a (very comfy) couch and woke up to potato pancakes made from leftover mashed potatoes.

Yesterday, my mother and I cooked and ate together.  The food was delicious and we split a bottle of the mead made from maple sap.  We actually sat at the table to eat dinner and had a wider than usual variety of foods.  But otherwise, it was another meal with my mother in the house I grew up in and that I now live in.

We also went out for a stiltwalk around Powderhorn Park.  We made a cardboard turkey tail and a quick turkey costume.  I carried markers and invited people to write what they were thankful for on the tail.  (The final list was very Powderhorn and included things like: decolonization, democracy, and Biden, alongside a drawing of a snowflake and pine tree, pie, and warmth.)

Though the holidays are full of traditions – both positive and negative – they aren’t made up by those traditions.  I’ve enjoyed quiet two-person meals and massive feasts. 

It isn’t about the tradition.  And maybe the tradition needs an overhaul.  So why not take this plague year to overhaul our traditions and find new ones?  And maybe we can get rid of daylights savings at the same time.

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