Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why I Like Thanksgiving

As most everyone who knows me is aware, I'm pretty liberal. I'm not saying I'm the most liberal person out there, but I'm pretty comfortable in the left. I've also got the bowl-a-plenty of the "white liberal guilt" with a healthy heaping of "Catholic guilt", even though I am not now nor have ever been technically Catholic. I went to Catholic kindergarden, but that's as far as that went. I'm pretty sure I picked up that guilt simply because even though my extended family is made up almost entirely of lapsed Catholics and former Catholics who now revile the Church (the second Vatican council traumatized my father) and at least one person who was excommunicated, they still engage in the cultural practice of the guilt. Which is, I think, one of the worst things to take away from the religion, but probably also now part of the familial culture. And I know that Thanksgiving is really not the best holiday in the world, as it celebrates the beginning of the end for many indigenous cultures.

I know that many tribes are now extinct, that the settlers broke many treaties, that the land my house is built on is more than likely ill-gotten gains. And I feel relatively badly about it all. I think that we should all be aware of this history, and we should know about things like the Trail of Tears and the history of land-grabbing and how the American government forced different tribes to share not only the smallest pieces of land they could manage but also the least rich. We should be well-aware that even today, "Indian reservations... [are] some of the poorest and most crime-plagued communities in America". We should be aware of the fact that white America tried to strip these groups of people of their culture, that white Americans tried to Anglicize them; and we should recognize that after the dominant white culture did all of this, we bought - as if in a tizzy - photographs of Frank Rinehart and others that depicted the dying gasps of that culture out of a sense of nostalgia. We should be aware that the plays of Pilgrims and Indians we put on in elementary school, in our paper bag costumes (of course, that could have just been my school), is as far from an accurate description as one could get for what actually went down.

But that, for me, is separate from the modern holiday. That doesn't mean we shouldn't know about it. But I feel the same way about marriage. It isn't like marriage is an institution that has always been about true love; it isn't like there haven't been women oppressed, or beaten, or killed within the bounds of matrimony. It isn't like marriage wasn't about gaining lands. It isn't like marriage hasn't been the tool of the patriarchy. And I think we should know that, especially those on the side of "traditional family values". I think we should all be aware that the modern marriage is a relatively new invention, and that sometimes what came before was less than pleasant. But since the modern marriage is, generally speaking, a different animal all together, there is the ability to celebrate it when two people decide that they do want to tie that knot. Same thing with Thanksgiving. The modern Thanksgiving is less about the historical event of breaking bread between Native Americans and Pilgrims and more about family. It is a time of year to gather, and eat. From Sports Night:
Jeremy: You get to see your family, what, twice a year? Savor it. Your mother's going to love you whether or not you screw up the turkey.
Dana: My mother's going to annoy me whether or not I screw up the turkey.
Jeremy: Which leads us to the conclusion that you mother loves you, even though she annoys you; and it's Thanksgiving, so which do you want to focus on?
Just like the ghost Thespis, whose name is also the title of the episode that exchange is from, Thanksgiving helps us recognize what is truly important in life. It isn't the turkey or the pumpkin bread or the sweet potatoes; it is a day, set aside, for all of us to recognize what we are truly blessed (in a secular sense, though for some also religious) to have in our lives. It is a day to recognize the importance of family. Thanksgiving is a holiday that transcends its blighted past, as is true of so many other things. It is there to remind us to "say a few words; you make a gesture; remember an important date. Small price to pay for what you get in return. For what you get in return, it's a steal. The rest is all vanity". It is our job to remember how we got here as a nation - both the good and the bad. But it is Thanksgiving's job, and holidays like it, to remind us that what we get in return for being part of a family - blood or made -  for being thankful and being giving is absolutely a steal.

So, I'm putting aside the liberal guilt about this one day, eating some mashed potatoes, and hanging out with some of the people I love and appreciate most in this world. Happy Thanksgiving.

1 comment:

mikhailbakunin said...

I'm not saying I'm the most liberal person out there, but I'm pretty comfortable in the left.

Okay, I'll say it for you -- you're the most liberal person out there. : )