EDITORIAL: Thanksgiving requires cultural change

Americans should leave behind outdated symbols of the holiday

Thanksgiving in the United States has become a sort of deeply ingrained culture with specific symbols, images and memories that enter our minds as soon as we hear the word. Such include Native Americans, pilgrims and turkey. While these things are accurate to the holiday in the sense that there is some perceived connection between them and Thanksgiving, the historical accuracy of these associations is not necessarily acknowledged. In fact, there are multiple holidays that lack historical accuracy, including Christmas, and governments pick and choose specific aspects of them to exploit. According to plimoth.org, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt lengthened the Christmas shopping season by declaring Thanksgiving for the next-to-the-last Thursday in November during his time in office, and in 1941 Congress permanently established the holiday as the fourth Thursday in the month. The symbols that have come to be associated with Thanksgiving are taught to people in school from a young age, and the truth behind the unfortunate history of the holiday is often euphemized or ignored.  

The simple fact that the government established the timing of the modern Thanksgiving to coincide with the Christmas shopping season with the aim of aiding the economy blatantly shows that there is no reasonable or necessary connection between the holiday of Thanksgiving and everything that is associated with it. In other words, there is not any religion or any specific ideology that outlines its specific rules and reasonings, and the holiday has no true requirements, such as prayer or celebration on a specific date. It is simply a time to be thankful. 

While our experiences from childhood and our fun and good-hearted lessons about Thanksgiving in elementary school bring back enjoyable memories for most of us, we are now able to see the fallacies embedded in those memories. By the 1900s, the Thanksgiving holiday and its symbols, like pilgrims and “Indians,” were used to teach children about American freedom and citizenship, building a tight association between them and the holiday. All over the United States young students take part in Thanksgiving celebrations in school which involve pageants, songs and crafts depicting the holiday’s symbols. And everyone learns that all Americans eat turkey for Thanksgiving. What the kids often end up not learning before the holiday’s mascots are embroiled into their minds is the brutal history between the Natives and the settlers. While that history in detail may be too much for such young students, it is important that they learn it and not necessarily around late November either — it can be taught at any time of the year. The point is to maintain the positive aspects of Thanksgiving, which clearly exist, but to look at the holiday through a different scope. Specifically, a scope that does not explicitly involve euphemized, and frankly false, history. Some may think that bringing these things up and discussing the truth of Thanksgiving may be unnecessary or that the ugly truth may make the holiday disappear, but that is unlikely to happen and it also does not need to. Learning the truth gives us all the more reason to be thankful for not only what we have and enjoy securely, but that we are able to continue to realize the things about our society and culture that we need to change. After all, Native Americans are still treated unfairly to this day. After protesting the construction of the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota for months and arguably enduring continuous violations of their civil and human rights, the pipeline was still built — and now they are being forced to deal with more than 200,000 gallons of leaked oil on their land as a result. 

Thanksgiving has the ability to actually serve as a holiday to unite all holidays. With no guidelines or ties to any certain group, prayers can be shared between all religions, and thankfulness for the good in life can be recognized regardless. There is ample room to eliminate the stereotypical depictions and commercial aspects of Thanksgiving that are so deeply entrenched in us and our childhood. Educators must come together to allow students to understand the true history of their ancestors as it relates to the conception of Thanksgiving and end the false narrative that American culture blindly and ignorantly loves and follows. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 149th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff. 

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