This weekend is a special celebration for our friends in America and for American expats. Thanksgiving celebrates both a successful harvest and the settlement of pilgrims in America, and is celebrated by other countries around the world too. However this year is a particularly special Thanksgiving, or Thanksgivukkah as it is now being coined because it coincides with the first day of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah. This is because of the rare coincidence between the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar, creating in essence a double holida
While foodies on www.buzzfeed.com have delighted in celebrating Thanksgivukkah with “How to Celebrate Thanksgivukkah, the Best Holiday of All Time,” by offering combinations of traditional recipes like Manischewitz-brined turkey with challah apple stuffing and latkes with cranberry applesauce, others have reflected more deeply on the significance of both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.
Thanksgiving itself is similar to the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, but there is also a congruence with the importance of religious freedom in both Thanksgiving and Hanukka. In the Hanukkah story, Judah Maccabee leads the Hebrews to freedom from Greek oppression in the 2nd century. Thanksgiving in America celebrates the first harvest of Puritan pilgrims, who arrived in America fleeing religious persecution. In European countries with histories of the Protestant Reformation, Thanksgiving commemorates the harvest as well as religious freedom. This year, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, are ideally merged in both time and significance.
Not all Americans however regard Thanksgiving joyously. For many Native Americans (or First Nations or Indigenous People) Thanksgiving Day is considered a day of mourning which marks the beginning of genocide. The Pilgrim’s first harvest, celebrated in America frequently plays little of no regard to the role of Native Americans at that first harvest, or the subsequent decline in their wellbeing with the increase in settlers.
Paula Bidwell, a Native American observed poignantly that the Thanksgiving marketing strategy completely ignored any element of Native culture or history. For Bidwell and many Native Americans Thanksgiving meant pain and grief and anger; a collective memory of their loss, degradation and marginalisation in their own land.Not a day of giving thanks, but a day of regret.
Lea Gerlach, a descendent of the pilgrim colonists who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 took Bidwell’s point to heart. On Thanksgiving Day, instead of the usual prayer that her family sang around the table, Lea, also a Bahai, read a Native American prayer.
Even more remarkably, Bidwell and Gerlach inspired by their faith and the words of Black Elk, focused the anger, grief and historical trauma associated with Thanksgiving towards something proactive
Bidwell and Gerlach worked together to create a website, Many Hoops ,(www.manyhoops.com), to debunk the myths and stereotypes of Thanksgiving festivities and focus instead on the humanity of the original participants, both Native American and pilgrim. The website presents stories, activities and recipes for a richer and more inclusive Thanksgiving celebration. The descendant of Native Americans and a descendant of Pilgrims found friendship and unity in reconceptualising Thanksgiving. Their vision in Many Hoops, is a heart to heart between Bidwell and Gerlach but also an invitation for healing divisions and the guilt of the past in order to see a better, combined future.
Or put more eloquently yet, from Black Elk
‘Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about me was the whole hoop of the world…And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops, that made one circle, wide as daylight and starlight, and in the centre, grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father, and I saw that it was holy.’