Friday, November 26, 2010

(One of) The True Meaning(s) of Thanksgiving

So I know that depending on your time zone, this is anywhere from an hour to a day late, but I wanted to take a minute to reflect in one of the real meanings of the holiday many of us celebrated yesterday.

Most of us think of Thanksgiving as a day to be thankful for all that we have, and to enjoy the presence of our friends, our family, and a good home cooked meal.  While this is arguably a more noble cause for celebration than the slew of drunken (but fun) celebrations we hold throughout the year (St. Patrick's Day, New Years Eve, Fourth of July), or the abundance of Hallmark or Hallmark-ized holidays which seem to be about giving gifts and cards (Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, Sweetest Day, Bosses Day, Secretary Day, etc.), or even the handful of days supposedly dedicated to hardworking and sacrificing individuals, which we now, without celebration gladly take off of work (Columbus Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, President's Day), it is still an incomplete understanding of the holiday, its origins, and its true meaning.

At least if we buy into the great mythology that we sell our children as American History, this holiday is about a lot more.  It is about us, white Europeans, being helpless immigrants in a foreign land, and our (so the story we all acted out in kindergarten plays goes) gracious hosts offering us their hospitality, their warmth, a good meal, and the knowledge needed to survive in a foreign land.

So isn't it kind of ironic that while we sit around our tables laughing, eating, drinking, and giving thanks with our families, that we are neglecting the people who find themselves in the same position?  Many immigrants (those lucky enough to have the day off) spend the day alone, without their families, and with nothing to do but go to the movies, and maybe grab a bite to eat at the local Chinese restaurant or IHOP.

This time of year should be an opportunity for people on all sides of the aisle to think about the real "first Thanksgiving," and what lessons we can learn.  A people who were decimated by our greed, our disease, and our trans-Atlantic political and military struggles welcomed us into their homeland.  Yet today, even as we celebrate and give thanks for their hospitality, many fail to extend the same hospitality to those that land on our shores and at our airports, and who cross our borders.  Unlike the white Europeans, who brought disease, war, famine, theft of land, genocide, forced migration, and centuries of unequal treatment to our hosts, many of our immigrants come here not to destroy, but to embrace our culture and our way of living.  We should at least attempt to welcome them with the same warmth the Native Americans welcomed the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

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