Thanksgiving and When Our Culture Screws Up
Posted by spritzophrenia on November 25, 2010
I want to suggest most of our national holidays and remembrances are culturally distorted. From their origins, somehow they become nice-ified and turn into celebrations of family, sentimentalism, greed and ignorance.
For example, Mother’s Day. Do the research and you’ll find it should be called something like “Mothers for Peace Day”. It was an anti-war day, and one of its founders died fighting what it became. What has it turned into now? A sentimental send-a-card day.
It’s doubtful the early Christians celebrated Christmas. Yet what does it mean today? The gross celebration of a day when a fat old man gives “good” children presents and commerce rejoices.
Easter? Bunnies, chocolate and “new life”, adopted from pagan celebrations. (There was almost certainly no goddess “Eostre”, by the way.)
But perhaps these holidays can be re-mythologised, and still celebrated by those who care about history? Here’s one Native American’s way of doing thanksgiving. Alternatively, Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin has written Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Thanksgiving. He suggests “Thanksgiving Day should be turned into a National Day of Atonement to acknowledge the genocide of America’s indigenous peoples.” Let’s face it, anyone who bothers doing the research will soon discover that Native Americans have been despicably treated. Can holidays like this be redeemed? Jensen writes:
Of course people often struggle for control over the meaning of symbols and holidays, but typically we engage in such battles when we believe there is some positive aspect of the symbol or holiday worth fighting for. For example, Christians — some of whom believe that Christmas should focus on the values of universal love and world peace rather than on orgiastic consumption — may resist that commercialization and argue in public and private for a different approach to the holiday. Those people typically continue to celebrate Christmas, but in ways consistent with those values. In that case, people are trying to recover and/or reinforce something that they believe is positive because of values rooted in a historical tradition. Those folks struggle over the meaning of Christmas because they believe the core of Christianity is experienced through the people we touch, not the products we purchase. In that endeavor, Christians are arguing the culture has gone astray and lost the positive, historical grounding of the holiday.
But what is positive in the historical events that define Thanksgiving? What tradition are we trying to return to? I have no quarrel with designating a day (or days) that would allow people to take a break from our often manic work routines and appreciate the importance of community, encouraging all of us to be grateful for what we have. But if that is the goal, why yoke it to Thanksgiving Day and a history of celebrating European/white dominance and conquest? Trying to transform Thanksgiving Day into a true day of thanksgiving, it seems to me, is possible only by letting go of this holiday, not by remaining rooted in it.
This re-imaging of Christmas is something my family started many years ago. We now have a “secret Santa” draw where we only buy one present that must cost less than $20. Christmas is no longer a stressful time desperately trying to buy presents for the entire family that no-one really needs.
Why is it that we tend to forget? Why do we turn these “celebrations” into sentimental pap?
Do you think we should remember history? How will you celebrate?
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