Should Thanksgiving be celebrated as a national holiday?


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Thanksgiving message with pumpkins on a blue background

Myla Tannenbaum, Contributing Writer

Each year, Americans gather with their families late in celebrate Thanksgiving, but what is the historical significance of this holiday?

The tradition of Thanksgiving began in 1621 with the “harvest meal” that took place between the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indigenous people in present-day Massachusetts.  The colonizers were celebrating their first successful harvest as a result of the skills they acquired from the Indigenous people.

Since pre-school, students have been taught the Native Americans welcomed the colonizers and happily shared their knowledge in order to help the settlers thrive in Plymouth.  When framed in that context, themes of friendship, sharing, and cooperation immediately come to mind.

Based on that curriculum, Americans celebrate each year with an array of foods that may have been enjoyed by the Indigenous people and the Pilgrims.  The Wampanoag taught the colonizers how to grow maize, sweet potatoes, and gourds and the Pilgrims provided the turkey.  However, several historians have debunked this utopian recollection of the first Thanksgiving and suggest the truth of what happened all those years ago is not something to be celebrated, rather mourned.

“It should be someone’s choice to celebrate given the horrific events that took place before, during, and after, especially to Native Americans,” said junior Allison Epstein.

When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, the Wampanoag chief offered them an alliance, in order to protect his tribe from their rivaling clan.  Unfortunately, the alliance became strained by colonial expansion, the spread of disease, and the exploitation of natural resources on Wampanoag land.  The tensions finally erupted into war and left the Wampanoag tribe devastated.  They were killed, forced to move to reservations, and their children were sent to residential schools.

According to David Silverman’s book This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving, we are continuing to harm the Wampanoag tribe by telling the same old story of the first Thanksgiving without acknowledging the historical inaccuracies of the tale.  Wampanoag adults have shared that they felt completely unseen as they grew up in school listening to their teachers discuss the subject of Thanksgiving.  Their history was glossed over, their suffering erased. Indigenous people have had to endure the myth that their ancestors simply welcomed the Pilgrims with open arms, taught them how to successfully live in a new land, had a celebratory feast, and then handed everything over to them for years.  What America is really celebrating is the stealing of Indigenous land and the genocide of Indigenous people. 

There is also an aspect of disrespect that this false curriculum is taught.  For example, many children across America perform in Thanksgiving plays in schools.  This involves young children dressing in fake and appropriative versions of Indigenous headdresses and traditional clothing.  These clothing items are a very important part of Indigenous culture and should not be recreated out of paper and cheap plastic feathers.

“It does benefit the economy because of the following day, Black Friday,” said junior Jerry Juarez.

Due to Black Friday, thousands of Americans are skipping family dinners to pull overtime shifts at Best Buy.  Thanksgiving has become synonymous with early Black Friday sales where Americans notoriously trample over one other to score good deals on AirPods and flat-screen TVs.  The discount event used to be held the day after Thanksgiving, hence the name, but over the years retailers have moved the sale up to include hours on Thanksgiving as well.  These mega sales generate huge traffic for retailers and drive a good portion of their profits for the end of the year.  But, if Thanksgiving is truly a day to celebrate our gratitude for all of the good things in our lives, why are we forcing workers to give up time with their families in order to satisfy insatiable consumerism?  Is that price cut on a brand new Xbox really something to be thankful for?  In recent years the answer has been a resounding, “absolutely!” but it seems as if the tide may be turning.  This year, many big-box retailers, including Walmart, Costco, and Target, have decided to forego the traditional early Black Friday hours and will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. 

“Thanksgiving should be a national holiday if only to have an opportunity to be with family,” said junior Sam Didricksen.

Modern-day Thanksgiving is about “giving thanks” and recognizing all of the blessings in our lives.  This is a good thing and should be celebrated.  We should take time to think about gratitude, family, friends, and how fortunate we are.  The classic grade school “What I’m Thankful For” worksheet is a perfect example of the self-centric view that we tend to take when giving thanks.  However, we cannot separate Thanksgiving from its roots in racism, colonialism, and consumerism.