Thanksgiving Challenge

by Zehorit Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence

Thanksgiving is the American holiday I treasure the most. Fall’s glorious colors, smoky scents and fragrant rains serve as a magnificent theatrical backdrop for this holiday. The web is buzzing with recipes, ideas for décor and activities, inspirational quotes and articles focused on celebrating Thanksgiving. After all, what’s not to love about gathering with loved ones for a delicious feast and in gratitude, celebrating this golden season and its bounty, right?

All true. And yet… May I challenge you this season of gratefulness to be expansive, to question the historical story of Thanksgiving while still embracing its essential message? There’s a Passover Jewish tradition of recounting the 10 plagues during the Seder, the ritualized dinner. As we call out the plagues one by one, we remove drops of wine from our glass, symbolizing the Egyptians’ suffering throughout that time. This ritual reflects an acknowledgement that the Jewish good fortune of liberation came with the cost of great pain to the Egyptians. Our cup cannot run over while others are in pain. History, past and present is overflowing with similar stories: great triumphs at dreadful costs.

The great American story unfolded at the expense of Native people and their culture. The traditional Thanksgiving narrative does not reflect that. Is America mature enough, are we brave enough to accept complexity and paradox? Can we treasure the American story, the spirit of Thanksgiving and its intent; yet still honor the contradictory narrative of American indigenous people? This year let’s accept the complexity of our history and find a way to honor and celebrate both.

Native American perspective: