Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love Christmas because it’s magical, and the Fourth of July is beautiful because of my memories with my grandmother, but Thanksgiving is all the good stuff of a holiday without any of the negative. There’s good food and family and all the positive feelings with minimal amounts of stress.
Unfortunately, navigating how to talk to your kids about the history of this holiday is especially fraught. I want to affirm the beauty of thankfulness without misrepresenting all the parties involved. I want my children to pause and reflect on all the good things brought into their life. To notice the million little blessings we forgetfully take for granted. The easiest narrative of Pilgrims and Indians is probably the least true. I want my kids to be aware of the responsibility they bear as descendants and beneficiaries of some of the worst atrocities committed on this soil- but to be honest, at six and three, I don’t want them to be too aware. I don’t want to lie, but telling the truth is such a heavy burden. Without casting all First Nations people in the same light, I do want my kids to know that the Wampanoag tribe did invite strangers onto their land- share their knowledge and celebrate life with them. I want my kids to realize that, at least for a small portion of our history, being from a different group didn’t matter as much as shared work, shared table, shared food.
And maybe that’s the sad truth in this world. Being sacrificially loving doesn’t always work out. Sometimes you get beat, but maybe if you get beat your acts of love and peace can still ring out- resound as a vibrating gong through history as a testament to your greatest self. Maybe our best acts are the ones with more staying power than our worst acts. I hope so- for my own sake. I want to be remembered for my creativity and passion- not my judgmental attitudes. For the notes from the tooth fairy I left under my kids’ pillows, and for how good I was at creating special moments throughout the day, not for the times I asked them to “please leave me alone so I can finish the chapter in my book”- the edge creeping into my voice. I want them to sing the songs I sang them, not yell the way I yell at them. I hope my flaws and failures fade away into faint remembrance like scars from kindergarten, while my acts of love and sacrifice can stain the pages of our family history forward in brilliant purples and greens.
I understand the danger of only knowing one story, but the truth is you have to start with one. If I tell my children one story this week and another next week and more and more as years go by, hopefully their understanding will grow and stretch. They will see the many dimensions of humanity in all its beautiful, sordid, fantastic, depressing reality. They will have the capacity to see people as individuals and hopefully, faulty ideas will fall from their minds as naturally as petals to the ground. So I’m going to tell them this Thanksgiving story: I’m going use the real tribal names, and no tepees or war bonnets will be in sight. I’m going to talk about the religious persecution, but also the greed that drove these Europeans to the “New World.” But mostly I’m going to talk about how taking time to share a meal, to thank God, to invite strangers in, to recognize value in cultures and knowledge that are different from your own can be life-saving.