Ahhhhh! Thanksgiving and Columbus day at the same time. What a fascinating combination. Being an ex-pat allows for this anomaly to occur at all. Each of the major North American cultures look at one of the days quite differently, and, the other only in the United States. Added to that, my brothers and sisters also have very differing views of both of these days than what I had learnt in elementary schools in middle class America.
First, Columbus day.
I never felt that the circumstances that setup the Columbus voyages were worthy enough of a national holiday. If for exploration, I was more a Sir Frances Drake and/or North's Men fan. If for the sake of the opening of a new world to commerce and new natural resources, my nod would go to the Spanish and/or French explorers that followed him. Most “white” Americans were taught all the histories required to make a sensible judgement on the merits of the voyages but were more interested in having a day off work and school in October than a value on its namesake.
To my brothers and sisters, it was not Columbus that began the demise. If you believe this, then you weren't taught the required histories, or, choose to ignore them for the purpose of focusing metaphoric attention on the genocides that followed. Spain (and, the battle for world dominance with Great Britain and Portugal) were the culprits in these events, not only in North America, but locations around the globe. A suggestion would be to understand this when proclaiming your distaste for Columbus Day so that the argument does not get caught in a semantic dialogue where someone can “prove” you wrong.
The facts as they relate to the United States.
The Catholic Immigration from Europe to the United States had reached its peak and Catholic Americans desired (lobbied, paid for, etc) a day that would recognize them as equal citizens. I know that in these times that would surprise someone but, for example, it was only in 1960 that the national press was wondering if the United States could ever elect a Catholic president (and, yes, we survived that event just as we did when the first black man was elected). The Knights of Columbus (a semi-secret men's organization of the Catholic church (in those early days) pressured the Colorado Senate to proclaim a Columbus day. Eventually FDR (and, others) saw the opportunity to garner a tremendously large voting block in their favour and created a national Columbus day. By the way, many Italians (most, recent immigrants themselves) saw this as a special favour to them, even though, Columbus sailed under the Spanish flag. In modern times, since the Catholic flood has been assimilated into the American society, the holiday has become meaningless to most “whites” and is a symbol not worth vehemence. Change it, as it has been in California and South Dakota and several other states and let it die a natural death, but by vilifying the man and/or the symbol, you are fighting against a myth and non -reality that has no import to the people you are trying to convince to support you.
I would simply try to change it to a true day of Thanksgiving. I think we all have something to be thankful about. Most “whites” celebrate it as such and no longer teach the elementary school stories. It is interesting though how I was taught that the “Indians” saved the “whites” and were generous and a blessing and everyone wanted to be the “Indian” in the school play, yet, I am now supposed to see the “day” (not what happened afterwards) as something horrible. It isn't. Nothing wrong with a little thankfulness, in this day and time. We can change the subtlety of its meaning by being open and receptive to “friendship” but will fail if we wish to tie it to the horrors that followed. Pick a different fight, more worthy, of the “hate” passions and a better sell to people that celebrate it much differently now than they did in the “old days”.
The Thanksgiving Day tradition was (and, many could argue remains to some degree) a religious holiday. It had nothing to do with the “natives” saving the Plymouth colony, nor, any such thing. The first Thanksgiving Day in North America (per the people supposed to study and know such things) occurred in St. Augustine, Florida well before the Plymouth colony was established. Unlike today, there was a religious precedent to establish a day of Thanksgiving following some disaster or other traumatic experience (for example, the first Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to the explorer Martin Frobisher who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean. Frobisher's Thanksgiving celebration was not for harvest but was in thanks for surviving the long journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs.).
I see nothing wrong with proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving and I would suggest to my brothers and sisters to embrace the concept, help change the concept of the celebration on both sides of the issue, and use it as a day of unity and cooperation and, of course, thankfulness.
I think this could easily fit in both cultures, and, any other culture (Muslim, Asian, non-Christian, etc.) in the Americas.
National Indigenous Peoples Day
I have no problem with this concept. Nor, any with the idea of replacing Columbus Day with it. Somewhat ironic actually. But, I have a few ideas about this being a holiday and holidays in general.
Most “successful” holidays have some relationship to the concept of giving. There are many reasons for this, such as:
... There are few days in the year that we are made or encouraged to focus our attention on others rather than ourselves. This makes us feel good and somehow released from some of our faults during the other days of the year.
... The marketers and promotional people love days that give since they can sell more stuff.
... It allows others to join us in our giving and receive also and everyone likes when that happens.
So, how can we turn this day into a “giving” day and not just a recognition of us day? Are we willing to share some of our ways? Teach others more about ourselves, the good and the bad? Can we make it as pure as we can and not be about land grabs and residential schools and genocides? Can we rise above ourselves for one day and attempt to bring others to us and us to them in a day seeking a new harmony?
One can only hope, yes?
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