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Thanksgiving - Then and Now

Remember the days when little ones would dress up as “Pilgrims and Indians” for a Thanksgiving pageant at school and tell the story of how they shared a meal of gratitude to celebrate the harvest and the survival of the new arrivals? Now, we know that’s not exactly how the whole thing went down, and that it’s reductive and inappropriate for non-native kids to dress as Native Americans. But there’s still this pervasive picture of the long table filled with food, conservative black and white wear on one side and feather headdresses on the other.

So, how do we address the immense problems with this image, while maintaining the reason we enjoy celebrating Thanksgiving? And with children, how do we talk about it at home without being too…graphic? My favorite suggestion is starting with stories – children’s books, of course! But look for stories about Thanksgiving from the Native American perspective. Ask your children to step into the shoes of both the pilgrims and the Native Americans – how would you feel if you were new to a land and trying to survive in entirely strange conditions? How would you feel if you’d lived happily and efficiently for a long time, and all of a sudden, people in strange clothes who didn’t speak your language came to tell you that you’d been doing it wrong? 

While it’s important that we get a more accurate vision of the historical significance of Thanksgiving, I think it’s even more vital to know why your family specifically celebrates Thanksgiving. A family discussion with everyone from children to great-grandparents to godparents to aunts and uncles who aren’t related by blood will help your children see why you celebrate like you do. We can be aware of how poorly European colonists treated the people of the tribes they met when they landed in the New World, and still be incredibly thankful for food and family and the abundance of blessings you have in your life!

Have your Thanksgiving celebrations changed over the years – whether it’s from knowledge or life stages or moving or anything? What’s the most important thing for your family? Share it with us!

Originally posted on on November 22nd, 2022

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