Don’t get me wrong, there are clear reasons why many of us — including myself — enjoy Friendsgiving. It’s an excuse to come together with friends and family, chosen or otherwise, and eat delicious food.
It’s a celebration of the harvest, centering joy and gratitude ahead of darker and colder days in the winter. In a time like now, that has been characterized by isolation and loneliness, it can feel more important than ever.
But for all of this positivity, the celebration still revolves around the most controversial American tradition: Thanksgiving.
The holiday, which many observe as the National Day of Mourning, remains mired in the intertwining legacies of genocide and the repeated attempts to cover up and erase that very genocide. Many Americans simply don’t observe the holiday of Thanksgiving at all, conscientiously objecting for one reason or another.
It is impossible to deny the attempted genocide of Native Americans never ended, it just evolved. Nations were attacked and displaced. Generations of children were stolen in an attempt to prevent cultural traditions from being passed down. Blood quantums were imposed to divest communities of their land. An entire racial group was depicted as a relic of the past instead of as contemporary peoples.
In recent years, Native Americans have faced mass incarceration and horrifying COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and mortality rates. Despite all this, Native Americans continue to organize to preserve and advance their cultures, languages and communities and to reinforce their sovereignty over their land.
As many adult settlers, refugees and immigrants reckon with the true history of Thanksgiving, it opens a question: how does one address the bloody elephant in the room?
The holiday already feels too deeply entrenched for many of us to do away with altogether. On a purely logistical level, this is one of two days out of the entire year the majority of your family can reliably take the day off (Black Friday workers notwithstanding).
Oglala Lakota Chef Sean Sherman, urges people to use the holiday to not just eat indigenous foods like turkey, corn and pumpkin, but to gain a better understanding of Native American history and support Native American growers. In an opinion piece for TIME, he writes, “There is no need to make Thanksgiving about a false past. It is so much better when it celebrates the beauty of the present.”
In many ways, Friendsgiving is a way to hold onto the best parts of the holiday while refusing to pay homage to the bad ones.
No longer must you listen to your racist uncle’s political commentary, and no longer must you reinforce the Thanksgiving myth of “Pilgrims and Indians.” But the change is still reformist; it attempts to deflect the history of Thanksgiving while still reaping the rewards.
Ojibwe writer Christian Allaire suggests throwing the festive energy of Thanksgiving behind Indigenous People’s Day instead. Writing for Vogue, he says in November he plans to have “an anti-Thanksgiving: an excuse to hang out, commiserate about this hellscape of a year, be sad, and drink far too much red wine.”
And I don’t think we need it.
What if we didn’t need to rely on the framework of Thanksgiving? A potluck with all of your friends doesn’t have to happen once a year; it can happen monthly. Cultivating joy and gratitude with your loved ones should extend throughout the year, not just one arbitrary Thursday in November. Workers should just get more days off to spend with their families because life shouldn’t be about capitalist production.
Native Americans should get their land back because it is still unceded, and honestly they are far better stewards of it than anyone else has been.
Contrary to what you might think from reading this, I don’t actually hate Friendsgiving. I actually love it and what it’s given to people — especially queer people — plenty of whom get their joy and comfort from their friends rather than family.
But I think we can do so much better than Friendsgiving to celebrate our loved ones, get in touch with our gratitude and address the harmful legacies of Thanksgiving.
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