We live in an age of new understanding of old traditions and previously accepted history. I doubt that there are many Americans who haven’t at least heard that there is a problem with what we think we know about the beginnings of our country, or that the first “thanksgiving” was not what we learned it was in grade school.
Yet, tradition and images that we all learned in those classes persist, and tomorrow much of the country will have the day off of work to gather, happily or not, with family we only ever see at this sort of holiday dinner and engage in the very American past-time of overeating while at the same time body shaming one another and dancing around politics and dark family secrets.
The Thanksgiving problem is multi-layered, really, beginning all the way back when white people first arrived on these shores. There are people better educated than I am who can explain all the problems with that better than I can, but if I can offer my understanding in short: There’s the fact that a bunch of white people just assumed the land they wanted was their’s for the taking, the idea that they did so woefully unprepared for what that land would require of them, the notion that we turned the natives into the enemy because they were different, the traditional idea of “good Indians” who helped those white people survive and “bad Indians” who were savages that would kill for no reason…And I’m sure a lot more.
There is the toxic demand for families who live separate lives for a reason, to come together and steep in a day heated by disgust, anger, forced affectation of affection, the stress of getting the food on the table, etc. This is something I try to help young LGBTQ folks understand, that they really do not have to submit themselves to that for the sake of a national holiday based on a lot of really bad history and colonialism.
No one should have to spend a day with those who at best despise them and at worst want them dead. No one should have to pretend to be someone that they aren’t to keep the peace at the dinner table.
We could also talk about the toxic combination of food waste, gluttony, body shaming and the double edged standard that surrounds meals like this. If a fat person carefully prepares a plate with a healthy portion of healthy foods, they get asked “Is that all you’re going to eat? Look at all this food we made.” If a fat person tosses the concept of healthy eating out the window, they get told, “See, that’s why you’re so fat. You need to control what you eat.” On the other hand, a skinny person eats twice their weight in food and half of a pumpkin pie, and are asked “Where do you put it all?”
Still, as problematic as Thanksgiving can be, there is also something to be said to find ways to reclaim it, remake it. You can see some of that in the trend toward “Friendsgiving,” where those who have no families, their families are distant or whose families are as good as poison chose instead to come together for a communal meal. These are the places where LGBTQ get to create family out of supportive friends, allies, and peers.
We can also work at chipping away at those images and traditions that are not actually based in reality and giving voices to those our colonialism, which began in Plymouth, marginalized, abused and murdered. If we can find a way to morph Thanksgiving from a holiday that celebrates that false history, and start to use it as a means to celebrate the actual humanity of those who are a part of the fabric of our country, meaning the Indigenous people, people of color, women, transgender people, gay and lesbian people, fat people, skinny people, those in between, geeks, nerds, Pagans, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and atheists, etc, then maybe we can reclaim it and make it a truly American holiday.