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About Thanksgiving - Sauntering Vaguely Downward [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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About Thanksgiving [20141109|20:06]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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[the weather today is |irritated]

A thing happened recently that I didn't feel comfortable addressing directly with the person involved, so it's turned into a journal post.

Someone felt the need to go on a diatribe to me about how it's a travesty that Americans continue to celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday built on what can mildly be described as false premises.

Every year I post a picture to Facebook of Wednesday Addams holding a match and delivering the following speech about Thanksgiving.

You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides. You will play golf, and enjoy hot hors d'oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, "Do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller."...And for all these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.

Despite this, every year, I make an effort to celebrate Thanksgiving. Since I've had the space to do so, I've invited as many people as I can cater for to my home and fed them, at the very least, on pumpkin pie and wine. Because I also believe that despite its hugely problematic origins, the saccharine mythology of which continues to be propagated in American schools, it is possibly one of the nicest American traditions in the way it is actually practiced. I have on many occasions not been able to be with my own family on Thanksgiving, including the entirety of the last decade. Yet because of the generosity of friends, colleagues and casual acquaintances, I have never felt alone or unloved on this holiday. When most Americans hear that you haven't got anywhere to be on Thanksgiving, they will immediately invite you to their own celebration, even if they don't know you well, and the invitation will be sincere. You don't have to take it if you don't want to. But the option is always there - to be fed a nice meal, in company of people in good spirits, which in my world is one of the best things you can ever do for others.

I know the origin stories of America, especially as taught to young Americans, are full of inconsistencies and glaring omissions. I know that Americans have, to put it mildly, not always behaved well as colonists. If I were to get romantic about it, I could argue that I embody the conflict between colonial and colonised interests from the cultural right down to the genetic level, given my parents' national and racial origins.

I also know that in choosing to become British, I have taken on the mantle of possibly the most notorious of the modern colonialist oppressors. And I know that in choosing to emigrate permanently, I have given up on participation in a large portion of the culture I was brought up in. I spend 99% of my time immersed in British culture. My partner is British. My children will grow up predominantly British.

So. I get angry when someone feels the need to tell me that, of the 1% of my time that I choose deliberately to celebrate something that is American, I shouldn't be doing it. Perhaps, O White English Person, the next time you feel the need to dress someone down for clinging to a tiny portion of the culture in which they grew up, you should consider that you are possibly not the most appropriate mouthpiece of justice.

This entry was originally posted at http://nanila.dreamwidth.org/951599.html. The titration count is at comment count unavailable.0 pKa.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: daphnep
2014-11-09 21:12 (UTC)
I like the ecumenical aspect of Thanksgiving. And all the things you list...and I like, too, that more people are acknowledging the problematic origins, and yet still choosing to celebrate in just the way you mention. As a frequent thanksgiving "orphan" myself, I love that we are, as a culture, allowed to say "this is not the holiday it was in previous decades, it is now something else, and that, too, is good. Thank you for this food, let's eat."

Yeah, I'm sorry you were criticized for it. But you've got it just right.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2014-11-10 20:27 (UTC)
"This is not the holiday it was in previous decades, it is now something else, and that, too, is good. Thank you for this food, let's eat."

Yes. Thanksgiving has become increasingly precious to me since I moved to the UK. It is a significant (North) American custom, unshared with British customs (and, er, also not the Fourth of July), that has a mode of celebration of which I'm particularly fond, and keeping it up helps me feel connected to the land of my birth. Although I'm fairly certain I won't return except for visits, I spent more than two decades there and that was pretty critical in shaping my identity. So it's important to me.
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[User Picture]From: attimes_bracing
2014-11-09 21:57 (UTC)
If it were me I would have unloaded and blamed it on pregnancy hormones but then I don't really do all that much tact.

Do you have to have many encounters with this individual?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2014-11-10 20:28 (UTC)
Ha, I would've done if I'd felt I knew this person well enough, but I don't. Fortunately, I'd say about 95% of any potential interaction with them is fully under my control so it's highly unlikely to happen again.
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[User Picture]From: returntosender
2014-11-09 22:08 (UTC)
That last paragraph is perfect. I'm afraid we find it all too easy to start pointing fingers.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2014-11-10 20:31 (UTC)
Yes. For instance, I know I'm not the right person to trumpet the views of Native American/First Nations people, which is why even though I have said persons in my family through marriage, I didn't mention them or their views on Thanksgiving in the body of this post.
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[User Picture]From: slutbunwalla
2014-11-10 06:07 (UTC)
I was going to say, it's nice because it's pretty darn secular at this point, just about sharing food and being with family and friends.
Sheesh, they need to take a step back.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2014-11-10 20:34 (UTC)
Yes, it is quite secular! You certainly don't have to give thanks to a deity if you don't want to.

Halloween is an odd one for me. Part of me longs to put the effort into costumes that I used to, but actually celebrating requires a collective energy/participation that isn't to be mustered in England unless you have a large network of expat American friends. I don't, and I'm not going to set about trying to make one just so I can get dressed up one day a year. :P
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[User Picture]From: slutbunwalla
2014-11-11 03:35 (UTC)
I always have big plans for Halloween, Big plans! Even in july! Like this year I wanted to dress as Eve from Only Lovers Left Alive, and then I couldn't even get that night off, and her clothes are all cream colored leather which is expensive, even ersatz on my budget and I'm not a goddamn seamstress....

But I do love everyone's decorations and I love its embrace of the darkness and I love all the half price "spooky" decorations I can get right after... I'll send you some sparkly bats and filigree raven stickers if you ever want them.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2014-11-11 09:18 (UTC)
I miss having big plans for Halloween costumes! And then either not executing them or getting it sorta wrong but it still being really fun.

Yes, the cut-price decor is great and thank you for the offer. Might take you up on that when Humuhumu gets a little older. She loves the spooky window gels I brought back last time I was in the States.
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[User Picture]From: mysterysquid
2014-11-10 07:10 (UTC)
Bam.

Did they seriously think it had never occurred to you?

And anyway,the pilgrims still thought of themselves as English at the time, didn't they?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2014-11-10 20:35 (UTC)
Yeah, I don't think some British people have very high opinions of the critical thinking capabilities of Americans. :P
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[User Picture]From: mysterysquid
2014-11-11 07:47 (UTC)
Yep, a lot of Aussies are like that too.
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[User Picture]From: cosmiccircus
2014-11-11 01:53 (UTC)
Well said!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2014-11-11 09:19 (UTC)
Thanks. Too bad it's all l'esprit de l'escalier...:P
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[User Picture]From: victorine
2014-11-16 21:32 (UTC)
In my household, Thanksgiving was never about starving pilgrims or exploited indigenous people. It was about eating massive quantities of food preceded by everyone saying something they were thankful for, watching the Three Stooges, and then eating more pie. Like you, I have experienced the openness of people during a holiday that feels more genuinely inclusive and caring than Christmas. It's possibly my second favorite holiday after Halloween.
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