I just received an interesting email from a man with whom I’ve done some corresponding. It has to do with Thanksgiving. I thought I’d pass along his note and my response. I’d be curious to hear how this sits with others of you.
Thank you for your response. I do realize that you have a wide correspondence from readers of your books, so I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my message.
I have been living with a question about the Thanksgiving holiday for the past 12 years that I would like to share with you. Before I come to the question I would like to share a little bit about myself as it may help you understand where I am coming from. I am an East Indian who came to the US in 2003 to attend graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s engineering school. I met my future wife in WI. She is from MN and she is the one who introduced me to your works. While I was in Madison, I had my first experience of the Thanksgiving holiday and it was a negative one. I was one of the few Indian grad students who had a car. My Indian room-mate and other Indian friends forced me to drive them at 3:30 Am on Black Friday to be at the front of the line at Best Buy so that they could get the best deals on electronic gadgets and gizmos. Standing in the line in front of Best Buy while being surrounded by people looking desperate to get in the store was a deeply negative experience for me. I vowed to not get involved in that madness again.
As time went by I tried to find out what the Thanksgiving holiday was really about. I could not find clear answers. The best answer I could find is linked below:
How do you reconcile this holiday with the tragic history of American Indians? I find myself conflicted because one cannot completely separate the feast that the Wampanoags and the pilgrims had together and what happened to American Indians in the decades and centuries following that event. What are we really celebrating on this holiday? Given your deep knowledge and understanding of American Indian history, how do you see this holiday?
To be truthful, I have pretty much disassociated the Thanksgiving holiday from its origins. It is one of the few things I look at only in its contemporary context, because it is the only holiday that has remained free of the hellish commercialization that seems to be the hallmark of contemporary American culture. It has a relative purity about it that focuses on family, though the encroachment of football is putting that somewhat in jeopardy. Still, it is about families getting together and not about rampant consumerism. This creation of Black Friday is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it seems to me to be the worst of American consumerism that then lasts all the way to Christmas. I can’t see the consumer frenzy jumping over the Thanksgiving holiday to begin even earlier, so I tend the be even more appreciative of the Thanksgiving holiday as a back wall to the Christmas buying frenzy.
I know this is cynical, but that’s how I feel: it’s a holiday about the appreciation of family, and, as such, I honor its integrity. Also, there is a turning of consciousness in America about the Native experience. By having a holiday that has its origins in the Native experience means that there can be a turning of awareness about the significance of the holiday over a period of time. So, with patience, this holiday can, perhaps, be one small way of building an awareness of a part of our national history that is otherwise ignored or forgotten. It’s at least a hope.
America is a young country and a naive country with a good heart but too much bluster and self-congratulation. I do my part to move us in a more humble and aware direction, as do you. It’s about the best we can do.
Thanks for writing.
What think you out there?