This might come as a surprise to many Americans - especially the patriotic, beer guzzling, Murica shouting, football watching variety. Not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving.
On the surface, Thanksgiving is the kind of holiday that everyone can get behind - both the religious and nonreligious. After all, science supports the positive affects that gratitude has on our emotional and physical health, it makes sense to have a day set aside to celebrate that concept. You don't need to be religious to accept the need to be thankful for what you have. So there is clearly a secular aspect to Thanksgiving that can be revered by people with no religious leanings.
In the Christian world, Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that we should honor. Time after time, the Bible highlights a spirit of thankfulness and commands us to be grateful. Give thanks to the Lord because he is good. Give thanks in all circumstances. This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Let us show gratitude.
Yet Judeo-Christian traditions don't have a monopoly on religious conscription to be thankful. The Qur'an instructs Muslims to have gracious attitudes. They believe that Allah instructs, "If you are grateful, I will surely increase you in favor, but if you deny, indeed, my punishment is severe." Islam also ties being grateful to finding favor from God. Buddhism teaches that "A person of no integrity is ungrateful and unthankful. This ingratitude, this lack of thankfulness, is advocated by rude people. ... A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people." Hinduism teaches adherents to be grateful for everything and to give without expectation of gratitude from others.
So much evidence in favor of thanksgiving as an action regardless of world view, and yet Thanksgiving as a holiday is not universally celebrated. Why is that? A complete answer to that question could be as complicated as trying to explain string theory to a kindergarten class that skipped recess and snack time.
There are simplistic and obvious reasons. Because some people are just ungrateful jerks. Because their retail employer insists that Black Friday actually starts on Thursday. Because they come from another country where the history of this American holiday is confusing or foreign. Because it is absurd to set aside one specific day to be thankful when we should be thankful all year round.
Or because the meaning of the holiday is a sore subject. This is something I never realized until I started studying my kids' heritage. Many Native American tribes view Thanksgiving as a day of mourning instead of the celebratory feast modeled after the first Thanksgiving (the one we were all taught was held by the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe). Modern American education tends to romanticize that first festival so it might be helpful to review the fate of the Wampanoag people.
Prior to the founding of the Massachusetts Colony, the Wampanoag's population was several thousand. Their numbers thinned as soon as they began to have contact with white explorers. Several were captured by Captain Thomas Hunt, then sold into Spanish slavery. More fell to illnesses brought over from Europe. When the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, they survived their first rough years in the new land thanks to the generosity of the Wampanoags and lessons in fishing and farming that the natives provided.
In the decades that followed, the Wampanoag population continued to shrink due to diseases that they caught from their new neighbors. As the population of white settlers grew, the Wampanoags faced a new challenge: assimilation. The Puritan settlers engaged the natives with religious conversion and forced relocation. The tension finally reached a breaking point with King Philip's War. For three years, the English colonists clashed with the Native Americans during which the Wampanoag tribe lost 40% of their people in battle. By the end of the 1700s, the Wampanoags where nearly decimated from sickness, war, slavery, and evictions from their traditional lands.
Understanding this history places a clear perspective of why some Native Americans do not view Thanksgiving in the same positive light as is done by white America.
If I'm honest, which I generally try to be honest, I like the idea developed by the United American Indians of New England in 1970. The National Day of Mourning. We should be thankful all year, but it could be incredibly healthy for us to recognize that life isn't always sunshine and roses. Perhaps, it could be beneficial to the American psyche if we observed a day to lament.
Which reminds me of something else I learned from reading my Bible. That there is a time for everything. "A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance." Also, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."
The church needs to foster an understanding and empathy for those that are hurting through the holiday season. We need to accept that this is not an easy time of year for many people. In that spirit, I will embrace a day of mourning.
Yes, I have much that I am thankful for: my kids, my job, reliable transportation, my faith community, living in a scenic corner of the USA, and Netflix. Yes, I am grateful. But my heart also breaks for there is much to mourn.
It was just over a year ago that Grandma Budd, my mom's mom passed away. Four years ago this past Friday, Grandpa Casey, my dad's dad lost his fight with cancer. Today, I mourn with my parents, my aunts and uncles, my brother, my cousins, and all who still grieve their losses.
I mourn personals setbacks that I've experienced over the past couple years.
I mourn the deaths of new and old friends I will never see again. David. Jeff. Sam. Travis. Patrick.
I mourn the tragedies from my hometown and the lives that were forever altered in the MPHS shooting a month ago.
I mourn a deeply divided nation that can't manage to agree on much of anything.
I mourn the headlines we've seen this week: riots, looting, and arson. I mourn with the business owners who lost their livelihood and watched their business burn to the ground. But I also mourn with protesters who feel like they have lost so much that they feel destroying something is the only way their voices will be heard. And I mourn with a family who is experiencing their first Thanksgiving without their son, knowing that the man who killed their son will never face criminal charges.
Our world is filled with so much pain, anger, brokenness, and loss. This year, I will observe this National Day of Mourning. However, I do so with knowledge that grief and sadness will not last. There is a time to mourn. But there is also a time for praise and jubilation. There is a time to party, to laugh, to dance, and to sing.
I propose we honor a day of mourning so that we can better appreciate those days when it is time to celebrate.