Today, millions of extended families will force themselves together for one night of gluttonous over-consumption and consumerism, in vague remembrance of the exploitation of now-extinct Native American tribes.
Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.
In today’s age, Thanksgiving represents the bounty of harvest and cultural fusion: the intermingling of European and Native American societies to celebrate a feast in harmony. The first recognized Thanksgiving feast was in 1621, between starving Puritan settlers and the generous Wampanoag tribe who fed them during the winter.
This is the Thanksgiving story that many Americans are familiar with: happy-go-lucky Squanto, teaching pilgrims how to fertilize their crops and survive together.
But the reality is far from the story. According to indians.org, European settlers had convinced the Wampanoags to forfeit over 12,000 acres of their land mere months before the first Thanksgiving. The Wampanoags had no concept of land ownership (as all their farming was done communally), so they readily agreed to the trade; however, within a decade, militant Puritans began flooding into the Massachusetts Bay area, and forced these indigenous tribes out of their homelands. In fact, our beloved Squanto spent several years of his life under European captivity, and was at one point marketed as a slave for £20 (~$25 USD).
While European Americans still view Thanksgiving fondly, the United American Indians of New England recognize the fourth Thursday of November as their “National Day of Mourning.” Moonanum James, a member of the organization, deems Thanksgiving as a celebration of “pilgrim mythology.”
According to James, modern Thanksgiving presents a day where “the pilgrims arrived, the Native people fed them and welcomed them, the Indians promptly faded into the background, and everyone lived happily ever after.” Unlike their European counterparts, however, these tribes see Thanksgiving day as a “reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture.”
But Thanksgiving isn’t just about history, you say. Sure, some Native Americans were slaughtered in the years afterwards, but it’s a celebration of our values, really. Every November, we gather around the table and give thanks for all we have.
Unfortunately, if Thanksgiving is meant to represent humility and gratuity, we’re doing an awful job at it.
According to the American Council on Fitness, the average Thanksgiving meal is about 3,000 calories — over 50 percent more than is recommended for the average American. In a country where 18 million families struggle to feed themselves yet almost 40 percent of food produced is wasted, it’s unclear how the holiday reflects these core values.
And some Americans revel in this extravagant overconsumption. The Old Homestead Steakhouse in New York City offers a $45,000 Thanksgiving experience for those with the cash, complete with $85 per pound Turkey and $465 per pound Wagyu Beef, served with bread that costs $46 per loaf.
Sure, Thanksgiving has its flaws, just like any other holiday. If you fall under the minority of individuals with a stable family atmosphere, then spending time together is probably appealing. And if you love gorging yourself like a tick on a cow, then go ahead — it’s a free country, anyways.
However, with Thanksgiving comes a strange sense of moral uprightness over other holidays, especially when compared to its sister holiday, Black Friday. We elevate Thanksgiving as a day of togetherness and gratitude, and castigate Black Friday as a disgusting reminder of American greed.
But they’re one and the same. Thanksgiving is no better than Black Friday or any other point in America’s ugly history. We get together and use “thankfulness” as a masquerade to our overindulgence. Stuffing our faces with food, wasting most of it and then ignoring the holiday’s significance is not the way to celebrate a monumental point in American history.
We’re pretty sure Squanto is rolling in his grave.