Zion Hodgkin Contributing Writer
As Maine Gov. Janet Mills recently signed legislation replacing Columbus Day day with Indigenous People’s Day, perspectives on Thanksgiving are changing too. The ethics of the holiday’s very existence as well as the traditions in the celebration of it are now in question.
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, and now, nearly 400 years later, it is celebrated in much the same manner. People get together with their loved ones, eat a ton of food, and feel happy about what they’ve achieved- but should we?
“The story goes,” writes one Business Insider article, “friendly local Native Americans swooped in to teach the struggling colonists how to survive in the New World. Then everyone got together to celebrate with a feast in 1621.”
However, the true beginning of Thanksgiving celebrations is believed to start instead in 1637, “owing to the fact Massachusetts colony governor John Winthrop declared a day of thanks-giving,” continues Business Insider, “to celebrate colonial soldiers who had just slaughtered 700 Pequot men, women, and children in what is now Mystic, Connecticut.”
Though the exact specificities and dates of this “First Thanksgiving” event may not be well known, most people, “are more aware that the story isn’t just what was taught in school,” proclaims Austin Kieth, former UMF student. “I just think people are more politically and historically involved. We are more aware of what Indigenous people went through.”
Katrazyna Randall, Associate Professor of Art, speaks about how she feels the holiday isn’t celebrated for the right reasons, but also why she thinks it isn’t celebrated in the right way. “One of the first things that strikes me, is how much it’s become about the idea of the nuclear family. In its origination it was about the harvest and about the community,” says Randall. “We don’t recognize ourselves as part of a community anymore, so that whole concept of it that is something worth celebrating doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s now about getting together with your family to have a dinner.”
Randall continues by thinking about how to shift the way a holiday born from a story of massacre is viewed and celebrated. “I sort of feel like things like Thanksgiving could go away, and that we need to invent new celebrations that celebrate our current civic reality,” Randall says. “I think that we should move more towards community celebrations and more civic engagement. I don’t think that we should be celebrating anything that represents the brutalization of another culture.”
Keith, however, believes that the reinvention doesn’t need to happen on such a grand scale. “I think it can still be a reason for family to come together and eat food and be happy together,” he says. “It’s a good moral thing, but it shouldn’t be associated with the event in which we killed so many people, to take and keep the land we grew the crops on that we ate during the ‘great feast’. I think they should be fully separate, one is a horrific massacre that we shouldn’t celebrate, the other is just a day to be grateful and to be with family.”