How to Celebrate Thanksgiving, If At All

On this Thanksgiving eve: Robert Jensen on why we should replace the current holiday with a national day of atonement and fasting: “No Thanks For Thanksgiving“. Jensen writes, “It’s now routine—even among conservative commentators—to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.” He goes on:

Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.

The first president, George Washington, in 1783 said he preferred buying Indians’ land rather than driving them off it because that was like driving “wild beasts” from the forest. He compared Indians to wolves, “both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.”

Thomas Jefferson—president #3 and author of the Declaration of Independence, which refers to Indians as the “merciless Indian Savages”—was known to romanticize Indians and their culture, but that didn’t stop him in 1807 from writing to his secretary of war that in a coming conflict with certain tribes, “[W]e shall destroy all of them.”

I tend to agree with Bob here, although I still have a big dinner/lunch, with turkey and ham and pie and all the usual accoutrements. I also like that the holiday marks the end of the harvest; now it’s time to prepare for winter, which used to mean—and now still sort of means—winding down and not caring as much about our jobs, taking stock of the year, and spending time with friends and family. Once it gets cold out, who wants to do any work?

Additionally, it’s difficult for me not to support any mechanism for reminding people about natural rhythms and repeating cycles; unlike Hallmark holidays like Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving corresponds to the changing of seasons, and includes local plants and animals (food webs, remember those?). I’ve been trying to grow pumpkins since August, and if I had any to pick at this point, you can be sure it would be something I would celebrate as publicly as possible.

I know that Bob would resist this kind of thinking, writing in a similar article five years before the one linked: “The argument that we can ignore the collective cultural definition of Thanksgiving and create our own meaning in private has always struck me as odd. This commitment to Thanksgiving puts these left/radical critics in the position of internalizing one of the central messages promoted by the ideologues of capitalism—that individual behavior in private is more important than collective action in public.”

But not caring about work is (or should be) a collective action. Plus, I applaud any excuse to pull kids out of school.

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