By Left Middle Right
In recent years, the conversation regarding certain holidays in America has become increasingly polarized. Although many Americans want to stay steadfast to traditional values and celebrations, there has been a contemporary wave of resistance towards certain notions. Different media coverage around the holidays can also add to our understanding of the meanings behind these celebrations. Historical context, prioritized in some of these news segments and emphasized in certain educational courses, may cloud nostalgia that some feel around this time of year, and cause others to question whether it’s time to update certain holidays or throw them out altogether.
The most obvious example of this is Columbus Day. Debate has risen in the last few decades as to whether the holiday should still be celebrated, renamed, or officially replaced by Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While the majority of Americans who chose to celebrate the holiday in its current standing do not try to justify the atrocities that happened because of Christopher Columbus, Americans that demand the day be changed argue that the whole premise of the holiday is rooted in injustice, and therefore should not be recognized. While Columbus Day’ is arguably by far the most polarizing mainstream American holiday, the conversation is shifting to other holidays as well.
As we approach the holiday season, it is not uncommon to hear debates about the premise of Thanksgiving, and whether it is right for our nation to celebrate a day that many Native Americans actually mourn. Unlike Columbus Day, Thanksgiving isn’t intended to only celebrate a historical day or figure, but rather re-enforce the values that stem from gratitude as well. If Thanksgiving was only about the aforementioned themes, there certainly would be no discussion left to have as to whether it is appropriate to have this national holiday.
This debate about the meaning of Thanksgiving has not been left untouched by media outlets, with some focusing on the abuse Native Americans faced following the arrival of Europeans and others opting out of mentioning it altogether. Separation of what is emphasized about the holiday seems to fall along party lines, and this different coverage is further perpetuated by outlets, in-turn creating more division among their viewers. More conservative-leaning news outlets, such as Fox News and their prominent host Tucker Carlson, have famously said that the people on the left are declaring war on Thanksgiving. In a conversation with one of his guests about teachers asking their students what could have been done differently on Thanksgiving, Carlson stated: “It’s a way to make them (students) hate the country.” Conversely, outlets on the left have used provocative and polarizing language to describe the holiday. In a segment on MSNBC, guest essayist Gyasi Ross stated, “Instead of bringing stuffing and biscuits, those settlers brought genocide and violence. That genocide and violence is still on the menu.”
Even if we chose to focus solely on the holiday’s thematic nature, do the traditions that are attached with the day still hold historical implications? The classic Thanksgiving dinner is based on the feast that the pilgrims had after a successful harvest, which many may still feel uncomfortable celebrating. However, a sizable portion of the nation will contest that the dinner is symbolic of both the work ethic of immigrants, and coming together as a country. Given the fact that the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 was shared between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag people, there is points to be made about celebrating the day with considerations to both the ethical and historical implications.
In light of the holiday, the best way to approach Thanksgiving is to first understand that the majority of Americans celebrating — regardless of their method — are well-intended. At its core, the holiday is intended to bring people closer to their families and friends, and encourage us to be appreciative of our surroundings. If one family chooses to celebrate through traditional methods, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they lack empathy for Native Americans. And if another family is more critical of the holiday and its history, that doesn’t imply they are any less American. There is room for agreement about the holiday, and it can start with saying that Thanksgiving should be about unity and empathy. Ironically, this should apply to the different viewpoints on the holiday as well.