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History (Education)

Education

The case for decoupling the Thanksgiving holiday from US history altogether

A day for giving thanks and celebrating gratitude doesn't require an origin story.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

It's time to officially make Thanksgiving purely about gratitude.

As families across the U.S. start prepping for family gatherings and feasts of turkey and mashed potatoes, people are engaging in the usual debates over the origins of Thanksgiving. Kids in American schools are learning various versions of the Pilgrims in Plymouth story, most of which are overly simplistic and many of which are flat-out wrong. People in Native communities are experiencing the familiar whitewashing of their side of that story, and people of goodwill are feeling torn about how—or whether—to celebrate Thanksgiving in light of the problematic history that has been ascribed to it.

Considering the whole, long evolution of the holiday, here's an idea: Let's officially decouple Thanksgiving from U.S. history entirely and make it a holiday that celebrates gratitude for gratitude's sake and nothing more.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting we "erase history" here. I'm simply suggesting we stop associating this holiday with any specific historic eras or events and distill it down to its pure essence. Despite the elementary school dramatizations seared into our collective psyches, there is barely a shred of a thread actually linking the Pilgrim origin story for our modern Thanksgiving holiday. Not only do we have the problematic mythology surrounding that "First Thanksgiving" event, but the entire idea that the Pilgrims are why we celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday today is totally untrue.

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