Rejecting Thanksgiving?

There are many reasons to reject Thanksgiving.  It is a holiday that celebrates the genocide carried out against native populations by encouraging the perpetrators of that genocide to enthusiastically gorge themselves on the slaughtered remains of a whole new set of victims.  The systematic slaughter of animals differs from genocide only in that it lacks the goal of total extermination; instead the goal is for a never ending supply of bodies and fluids.  Indeed, it is genocide without end.

Furthermore, Thanksgiving has become the starting gun marking the so-called holiday season, also known as the shopping season.  It is a holiday that is putatively about being thankful and appreciative which concludes with people being trampled to death outside Wal-Mart by shoppers who have been convinced that their adequacy as parents hinges on their ability to secure whatever toy happens to be trending.

Consequently, calls to reject Thanksgiving are commonplace amongst the subset of the population that objects to genocide, animal sacrifice, and/or the mass frenzy of consumerism.

But calling on people to simply reject a firmly established holiday is quite difficult and perhaps somewhat unclear.  Is the idea to treat the day that Thanksgiving happens to fall on as a typical day which might include going to work, eating an average meal, not travelling or visiting family, not engaging in whatever benign traditions one may have grown accustomed to?  I for example would likely have to refrain from playing “Alice Restaurant” and donning my (now stained and tattered) “This Dump is Closed on Thanksgiving” t-shirt.  Does singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant constitute tacit support for the atrocities at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday?

Alternatively, is the call to reject or boycott Thanksgiving more accurately (or if not more accurately, simply preferably) understood as a call to re-invent or transform Thanksgiving?  I would suspect that it would be more feasible to transform a holiday than to simply wipe it off the calendar.  I would suspect that it would be impossible for the mass of people currently living in the United States not to ascribe some significance to the end of November, to look at a calendar and not think: “Thanksgiving”.  It is more likely—and more rewarding—to reinvent, rehabilitate, or possibly just co-opt the holiday.

Admittedly, this is far from an original idea.  Many Native Americans have treated the holiday as a Day of Mourning.  I would like to see this idea spread further.  It was introduced as an opportunity to reflect on the violent and genocidal European conquest of this continent but could easily be extended to include the animal populations that have been removed from the land as well.

Likewise, vegans and animal advocates regularly circulate animal-free menus that mimic a traditional Thanksgiving feast.  And I am aware of one animal advocate who has recommended–similar to a Day of Mourning–that a Thanksgiving day fast would be a most appropriate response.  Is a fast a boycott or simply a different way of investing the day with significance and meaning?

In any case, we are a society that is desperately in need of holidays and so we should probably be reluctant to simply give them up.  In Barbara Ehrenreich’s Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, she reports that “[i]n fifteenth century France…one our of every four days of the year was an official holiday of some sort, usually dedicated to a mix of religious ceremonies, and more or less unsanctioned carryings-on.”  In comparison, our calendar looks quite austere.

But we need holidays that bring us closer to our espoused values, which serve as reminders of what we have genuinely deemed to be important and opportunities to reflect, holidays that pause rather than stimulate business cycles, which offer us the chance to experience a range of emotions from mourning, when appropriate, to joy.  We lack genuine holidays; we now have only sales pitches and endzone dances.Day of Mourning

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