Last week my home state of Massachusetts tried really hard to get in touch. Phone calls, text messages, even an email from Congressman McGovern. All telling us not to have Thanksgiving with anyone beyond those you live with. Seriously, their message was to lock it down. Naturally there were a few caveats for those folks who are determined to go against the recommendations. If you are someone who decides not to follow the sage advice of health officials then your ill-conceived gathering should be limited to 10 people inside or 25 people outside.
Here’s my truth – our house is so small if I invited 10 people inside to eat it would become a super-spreader event. Plus eating outdoors at this time of year? Brrr. I’ve been doing the al fresco, twelve-feet-apart dining* on those few occasions when our adult children visited us during 2020. What was lovely in June, became brisk in October, and has turned frigid earlier in November. I appreciate how fantabulous it is to see those who are dear to your heart. Even if you can’t hug them, it is wonderful just to be a masked six feet away from them. However eating outside in New England, during November is cold, really cold. So this year will just be my husband and myself at the table. *We increase the recommended distance when we take our masks off to eat.
Added to this current national health crisis, there is also the Thanksgiving myth I have been grappling with. I say myth, because the holiday many of us celebrate is a Thanksgiving based on Governor William Bradford’s colonial version of a “first thanksgiving” gathering. There is no inclusion of the Wampanoag people’s perspective (in case your 3rd grade teacher was remiss, the Wampanoag people inhabited the area now known as Plymouth for thousands of years before the Pilgrims ever set foot on the Mayflower). If you are interested in learning more I suggest listening to Paula Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Nation, describe the Mayflower story from a Wampanoag point of view, which you may see/listen to here.
One other great resource is a recent podcast on All My Relations. Matika Wilbur from the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes and Dr. Adrienne Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, host Wampanoag scholars Paula Peters and Linda Coombs in an episode entitled ThanksTaking or ThanksGiving?
For the last few years my nuclear family has chosen to come together near, but not always on, national turkey day. This is because we choose not to celebrate a moment between our early settler ancestors and the Wampanoag people which eventually led to colonization and genocide. Instead, while we overindulge in tryptophan and pumpkin pie, we celebrate being here and now with each other. Our focus is around the traditional meal we all enjoy, and acknowledging how lucky we are to have access to such amazing food (and people willing to cook it all!). We pay attention to how much we love one another. We appreciate the beautiful place we live, where the kids grew up. It is a moment for us to collectively take a breath, give thanks, and eat pie.
This Thanksgiving perspective shift came about after Isabelle and Russell returned from their respective church youth group pilgrimages to Borderlands, an Episcopal retreat in South Dakota. A spiritual center and retreat, Borderlands occupies land in the Pe Sla – the heart of the heart of Lakota sacred lands in the Black Hills. It is an environment where two cultures – the First Nations peoples, as well as Celtic and Episcopal traditions – meet. After returning from this sacred place both kids shared with us what an amazing journey they had. Having the opportunity to meet with and learn from people of other cultures, visiting sacred sites, learning about the spiritual ceremonies and ways of the Lakota people, as well as connecting with nature, fundamentally changed their perspectives. It opened them to questioning and reexamining the stories and “history” they had been taught in school. Ever since we have endeavored to craft something different for our family.
So what will I be cooking this year? Good question. I like turkey, but not enough to be eating it for the next two weeks. If your are a follower of this blog you know my primary focus is on food – not politics (though food is political); not history (though our history may often be traced through food). Just a smörgåsbord of food. Foods I grew up with, foods I’ve discovered, foods I want to make again and again and again.
This year I think a huge plate of dumplings would be something to be thankful for. Frankie Gaw’s butternut squash and mushroom dumplings to be specific. After years of making dumpling with store-bought wrappers, Gaw, of the blog Little Fat Boy, has gotten me into making my own dumpling wrappers! Which is wild, though my pleating is not as good as his. Guess I’ll have to keep making (and eating) dumplings till I improve. Also there are a few bags of charcoal in the basement so Shawn wants to bust out the grill. Perhaps there will be grilled lamb chops or even a smoked chicken near turkey day to go with the dumplings. Stay tuned and peace be with you.
If you want to learn more about Native people and critical issues facing their communities I would strongly encourage you to subscribe or listen to the All My Relations podcast. I have been listening for over a year, and it is in my top 10 list of podcasts to subscribe to. Wilbur and Keene, along with all their guests, have taught me so much, for which I am very grateful.
Give a listen to Rachel Maddow’s heartfelt plea asking people to recalibrate their thoughts on “acceptable risk” around Ciovid-19.
Want a killer pumpkin pie recipe? Try my blue ribbon pumpkin pie.
Read the suppressed speech of Frank James, Wampanoag. Invited to talk to Pilgrim descendants at the 350th celebration of the Mayflower’s arrival, James was banned from speaking at the event once organizers realized he was not going to present the happy turkey version they so venerated. Instead he climbed a hill overlooking Plymouth Rock and spoke to the Native Peoples and supporters who had gathered. His words sparked what is now the National Day of Mourning.
Want to know more about the guy who “invented” Thanksgiving? Here is the story of William Bradford.
Are you ready to up your dumpling game? Subscribe or follow Frankie Gaw on his blog Little Fat Boy.
As I dive into learning more about the history of this country I want to acknowledge I am proud of my ancestors, the Wing family. Asa Wing fought in the Civil War and ultimately became an abolitionist in Mexico, New York. It is an honor to have an ancestor who worked to thwart slavery. This journey of self-education is more about understanding the full history of America, without whitewashing the realities and results of colonialism.