It was 6:15 p.m. on a Wednesday when I attempted to break into St. Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia University campus in New York City. There was a lecture scheduled for 6 p.m. in the Choir Room, but there was no obvious entrance into the ethereal edifice, so I attempted to pry open several stained-glass windows located at the back of the building. No luck. Each was shuttered as if someone inside knew that an American Indian activist with a God-awful grudge was en route to spoil their food and fun with his anti-Thanksgiving blather, and they were right.
After about 10 minutes of pulling and pushing on anything that looked like it would crack open, I finally found my way into the chapel through an unlocked door on the south side of the structure. The curious lecture hadn’t started yet when I trundled into the large meeting room where roughly a dozen people had already begun dining on a vegetarian dinner. I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t care to politely nibble. I was there only to play audience to a lecture advertised as “Whose Thanksgiving?” where the keynote speaker, Columbia history professor Karl Jacoby, was scheduled to comment on a piece he wrote for the Los Angeles Times. In the article, Jacoby promulgated that the Thanksgiving Not-So-Honest Abe established in 1863 wasn’t to commemorate a meal and meeting between pilgrims and Indians, but in fact a desperate attempt to unite the north and south following a seriously divisive Civil War.
It was two hours later when I finally got home to my apartment on the Upper West Side. I immediately turned on the TV and saw that Brian Williams, the blind patriot, was in the middle of a segment concerning the recent unpopular plan to push Black Friday into Thanksgiving. I then went online and noticed that there was already a bevy of articles referring to the corporate move as “the death of Thanksgiving as we know it.”
“Sure,” I scoffed.
Then, not moments later, I came across the “Save Thanksgiving” Facebook page and an online petition by a vexed Target employee demanding that the retail giant, which is scheduled to open at 9 p.m. Thursday, “Take the High Road and Save Thanksgiving” from the “Black Friday Creep.”
This is pseudo news, I thought. Thanksgiving isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s just that time of year in American media conglomerate newsrooms when sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated journalists, coming down from an election high, really have nothing else to report on but the cheap and pointless. It’s all post-presidential election wiggy media babble, and it’ll toy with your cerebral if you swallow too much of it. Watch what you swallow.
And let’s be logical about this. Thanksgiving doesn’t feel threatened; it doesn’t feel like it’s got a corporate pistol pressed against its temple. Even with a bullet in the chamber, no one, not even the fleecing grifter on Wall Street would dare squeeze the trigger. It’s not in his interest, and Americans are too stubborn anyway to hand over a holiday that’s married to their blind patriotism and the American myth. First Nation folks know well that American myth. It’s the house where Thanksgiving lives, and Independence Day, too.
So, well, let’s face it: this Thursday will be ugly and wrong on so many levels that I feel like bathing in a concoction of Dove body soap and bleach just at the thought of its depravity. It’ll be a display of unprecedented American gluttony. It is, of course, American tradition that people die by trampling for commodities in November. Parents will wrestle and sucker punch each other over the biggest, best and brightest of anything they can tackle away from the smallest and weakest. But this is the norm. This is the dark late-November ritual Americans expect and wait for in disturbing anticipation. The only difference is this year people will do it with turkey-grease soaked fingers and overfed, fat bellies.
All the while this violent public disorder takes place across the scuffed floors of the U.S. retail warehouse, too many families will go without eating and will huddle by anything emitting warmth just so they can say, “We did okay this year.”
Yet I have my own November rituals, and they don’t include voraciously feeding and insatiably spending. They include speaking against the sugarcoated fables as well as revealing the realities of that First Thanksgiving. Did you know that in 1676 Connecticut declared a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate “the subduing of our enemies,” i.e. Native Americans? Ask Prof. Jacoby. The guy will tell you all about it.
I will also try to throw a sour tomato at least one of my wasicu chums, and then, after I wash my hands and remove the blood-red residue, I’ll re-read Chapter 3—"The Truth About the First Thanksgiving"—from James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me. My favorite line of his is on the second paragraph of page 126: “The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history.” It gets me every time.
Now where are those sour tomatoes?
Simon Moya-Smith, 29, Oglala Lakota, is a Master of Arts student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.