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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

November 21, 2023: Marked by Celebration and Mourning

Tuesday, November 21, 2023:

Marked by Celebration and Mourning

Reflection: Marked by Celebration and Mourning

This week marks the celebration of Thanksgiving all across the United States. For many, it is a time of family gatherings and holiday traditions. It has long been one of my favorite holidays as it focuses mostly on people coming together, sharing a meal and being grateful. I have such fond memories of eating at the kids’ table, graduating from the kids’ table, meal time jokes and pranks, late night leftover sandwiches and watching a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

I also think back to the many family members who are no longer with us and recall Thanksgiving as a time to re-member those who we missed having at the table.

The origins of the holiday date back to the time of the early settlers, and most of us grew up with a sanitized and whitewashed version of the “first Thanksgiving” where European settlers braved the perils of this new land with the help of friendly native people (from the Wompanoag tribe in what is now known as Massachusetts), and they celebrated by having a harvest festival together.

Just pause here. What version of Thanksgiving did you grow up hearing? What do you think about that story now?

In many indigenous circles, the holiday of Thanksgiving is known as the Day of Mourning. It remains a painful reminder of the brutal history of colonization, land theft, cultural destruction and the continued oppression.

If we trace our history back to settler status, then Thanksgiving might need to take on new meanings for us besides family, food and football. The legacies that we have inherited and benefit from demand more from us than celebration. They will require repair. And like any other repair, we must become aware of the harm that has been done, acknowledge it and find our place in it.

I know that in some of the circles I move in, people ask if we should even celebrate Thanksgiving anymore - given the history of the holiday and the ongoing legacies.

Steven Peters, a spokesperson for the Wompanoag tribe, was once asked what he thought of Thanksgiving and the fact that many people (including native peoples) gather to “celebrate.” He responded,

My ancestors had four harvest festivals throughout the year. Gathering with family, enjoying our company, sharing our blessings, and giving thanks for all that we have is a good thing. I say have more thanksgiving events throughout the year. I also ask that you take a moment in that day to remember what happened to my people and the history as it was recorded and not the narrative that we had been given in the history books.'

I know that not everyone would share Peters’ generous and invitational response, but I found it to be a helpful one.

I found it helpful because he holds up gathering, community-building and giving thanks as good things that we should do and continue to do. He also invites us to use those opportunities for increased mindfulness. Mindfulness of history. Mindfulness of whose land you are on.

Mindfulness that historical legacies impact today’s realities. Mindfulness that this history must be faced and made right if we are to be whole as a nation.

In the original interactions that gave rise to the “first Thanksgiving”, the Wompanoag people provided not only the food that was eaten but also the knowledge of agriculture and hunting that sustained the settlers. If anything should define this holiday, it would be a spirit of generosity evidenced by the native peoples and their enduring legacy of a reciprocal relationship with the land and guests to the land.

This site where I found the quote from Peters invites people - as they are saying thanks for the many blessings in their lives - to also give thanks for:

-the original generosity of the Wampanoag tribe to the European settlers and the ongoing generosity of indigenous people to the wider society (in spite of these colonial legacies)

-the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans who lost their lives because of the ignorance and greed of colonists and the genocide experienced by whole tribes.

-the enduring, vibrant and resilient Native descendants, families, and communities that persist to this day throughout the culture and the country

While doing these simple actions do not undo hundreds of years of oppression, they begin to change the narrative and change us.

In our gospel today, Jesus asks a blind man one of the most important questions that he asks of anyone, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the man says, “Please let me see…” And as soon as he received his sight, he began to follow Jesus on the journey. Please let me see.

Can we say the same for ourselves? Especially if we are not native to this land, do we want to see these histories more clearly? Do we want to see that they will require repair? Do we want to see that we must have a role in that repair?

As we gather this week - in whatever ways we gather - may we do so in a spirit of generosity, connection and reciprocity that honors the roots of this holiday that actively works to build a world where all can celebrate on this day because we have dismantled all that separates us from one another and from this world.

Mike Boucher

Nov 20

(Much of this blog was informed by information found here:

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