How to Really Celebrate Thanksgiving

As families and friends gather to give thanks on national turkey day, a growing number of contrarians are withdrawing from the festivities.

To put it out there – Thanksgiving is a contradictory holiday born from bloodshed. It is really a celebration of European conquest and supremacy in a foreign land – the blessings for which the pilgrims gave thanks were wrought from the tragic genocide of Native American people. The spirit of the holiday transformed over generations to become the Thanksgiving we know today – the celebration of our gratitude and our blessings.

The dark history of Thanksgiving is often ignored in the popular festivities of the tradition that is older than the nation. One of the popular arguments for the rewriting of its significance is that bloodshed is a given in the history of all ancestries and that we should move forward as thriving descendants. Others debate that it is a celebration of good harvest and survival and that the past massacres are fallaciously associated with the observation.

However, even the most compelling arguments for the festivities belie its modern significance as a time of connectedness. If this is the time to open our hearts to others, why not extend the benevolence to those who aren’t so fortunate, to those who suffered in the past and continue to do so, and to the huddled masses at our metaphorical doorstep?

This isn’t a criticism of the warm spirit of the holiday. It’s not a call for cessation of celebrations and joyful gatherings. It’s a call for a mindful observation of Thanksgiving; to extend our warmth, empathy, and gratitude to beyond our circles of familiarity.

The benevolent spirit of the holiday is bastardized by Euro-centric perspectives painting one-dimensional portraits of Native Americans and is marred by the antithetical commercialism of Black Friday. We could go without the offensive paper bag “Indian” hats made in arts and crafts class. We could go without the shopping rampage and injuries that hypocritically follow Thanksgiving dinner grace. To truly reflect the gratitude for our fortunate settlement in America (as it is told in the pilgrims’ stories), we could definitely go without the continuing xenophobia surrounding immigrants and the recent backlash on Syrian refugees in the aftermath of the ISIS attacks.

The Rev. Irene Monroe, Huffington Post blogger and NPR segment host, sums up the real meaning of Thanksgiving:

It is in this spirit of connectedness that we should not solely focus on the story of Plymouth Rock, but instead as Americans we focus on creating this nation as a solid rock that rests on a multicultural and inclusive foundation.

The morality of observing Thanksgiving isn’t very clear, but we can rewrite it from the Euro-centric perspective of the pilgrims to be more people-centric – to celebrate and respect the multicultural foundation that makes this country our home.

Let’s transform the holiday to be a remembrance of the struggles of the Native Americans, the nation’s forefathers, our diverse ancestors, the presently suffering people in Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and others living with armed conflict in their daily lives, and everyone else suffering across the world – in addition to the radiance of gratitude we extend to our families and friends.