During our first Thanksgiving in Spain last year, the Brew Crew decided to indulge in the Spanish tradition of eating Paella in a restaurant rather than spending all day in our kitchen cooking up traditional American meals that we have had for years. This year, we had an itch (ok, I had an itch) to cook up some favorite dishes at home and share our holiday tradition with some non-American friends. However, Thanksgiving is giving me more pause than ever as I try to understand where this holiday truly comes from and what it truly represents. I recall my mother sending me a NYT article in 2017 titled, “Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving is Wrong.” I was impacted by the article then but feel even more impacted now looking in from afar as we live outside of the United States.
I decided to embark on some actual research of my own on the American Thanksgiving holiday (time that I would only have living here in Spain, of course). I was quickly reminded of the historical controversies, the actual “Day of Mourning,” the genocide and oppression that happened during the beginning of the New World, and the fact that a turkey was not even a menu item as we often see depicted in historic paintings. To add more fuel to the fire, I have been saddened by The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act and Trump’s attempt to get the legislation thrown out. Even the new movie, Frozen II, has attempted to remind us, in a timely manner, of the violent history between white folks and indigenous tribes. As I notice my somatic reactions while researching, I feel like the wife of the nazi general in the film “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” when she finally discovers the truth of what her husband does for work and that the smokestack on the property behind her house is not for burning wood or trash.
Some of our friends whom we invited to our holiday meal happen to be vegans. Knowing this, I planned a menu of mostly vegetarian and vegan dishes and one that takes the focus off of “the bird” as center stage. But I can’t help but ponder what my friend mentioned… it being difficult for her to “celebrate” such a meal when animals are forced to suffer similarly to how the Native American Indians have suffered.
Finally, our American holiday traditions fall in significant contrast to the Spanish culture with which we have become so familiar and possibly speaks to differences in values as well. While once a year, we spend lots of energy and time cleaning and decorating our homes and creating the perfect centerpiece only to feel exhausted once our guests arrive and overwhelmed by the pile of dishes in the sink once they leave, the Spanish devote their energy to connecting and conversing with each other in a public, neutral location that takes care of all the cooking and cleaning (this is partly due to the expense of eating out in America compared to here in southern Spain). Plus there is no time limit to their gatherings and no one is trying to make money off of turning the tables as many times as possible in one afternoon or evening. And did I mention that they do this every Sunday?
All of this to say that I find myself reevaluating what is really important about our Thanksgiving holiday and wondering how we can best celebrate it in a way that is consistent with what we believe to be good and true. Then, of course, we have to figure out how to teach the complete history of Thanksgiving to our kids. To start, the kids are not big fans of turkey meat anyway so that is easy, but hosting and sharing our home with friends with the goals of providing for them both nourishment as well as relaxation is a big part of our American and family culture (whether it’s the turkey that puts them to sleep or the televised football game that releases their built-up tensions of seasonal competition). I love the idea of saving my energy for the relational aspects of the holidays and I also realize I do love to cook and to provide a meal and setting for others as a way of contributing to those relationships. And, I wonder if we can we do this without celebrating either the countless deaths of earlier generations or current day animals.
In the end, we did arrange furniture, made a centerpiece of sunflowers and I cooked until late the night before. However, George and I still got a long walk in on the day of, we bought pre-cooked roast chickens, thoroughly enjoyed the company of a small group of friends (thanks to a small apartment, we were forced to keep the guestlist short) along with a plethora of vegan desserts! One of our guests, a 15 year old Spanish/German/British boy, made it all worthwhile as he referred to his last minute invitation to join us as “a dream come true!” My gratitude extends not only to those who fill my life with love and friendship but to some awareness of what is good and true, and of times in our American history that must never be repeated.