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Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

How do you explain Thanksgiving to your children, if you celebrate it?

Asked by Simone_De_Beauvoir (39047points) November 20th, 2009

This is my one token Thanksgiving q, I promise…I don’t celebrate it, my partner’s family does…we don’t really tell our kids anything about the day other than we eat turkey on the day…there are a lot opinions out there as to whether this is a holiday that celebrates a historical reality that never occurred…because, in reality, the killing off of American Indians is the only thing that comes to mind of that era, anyhow…but to many people, this holiday isn’t about the past, it’s about the present and being thankful…yet in schools kids get fed the whole pilgrims ate with the nice Indians over a turkey crap and people don’t teach kids otherwise…or maybe you do…how do you, as a parent, if at all, approach these contradictions or this holiday when it comes to educating your kids? Does what you tell your kids contradict what you believe about this holiday?

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44 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

a celebration where people thank a fictional character for something for which they should thank their fellow humans

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ragingloli wait, what fictional character?

casheroo's avatar

I haven’t thought about the big picture, but I do know I want to teach them proper Native American history.
Thanksgiving has always just been like Christmas in my family. We are not religious, but we got together with family and have a big “feast”. I’ll educate them on NA history, but since I’m actually Native American..small amount, it still means something to me.

Here’s a list from http://www.nativechild.com/

• Do present Native people as appropriate role models with whom children can identify.
• Do look for books and materials written and illustrated by Native people.
• Don’t use ABC books with “I is for Indian”, “E is for Eskimo”... Don’t use counting books that
count Indians.”
• Don’t use materials which negatively illustrate Native Peoples as savages, primitives, simple
or extinct.
• Do present Native Peoples as separate from each other, with unique cultures, languages, beliefs and
dress.
• Don’t sing counting songs with “Indians” or use books with non-Indians/animals dressed as
Indians.
• Do avoid arts & crafts activities which trivialize Native dress, dance, beliefs.
• Don’t let children do “war whoops”, make paper bag costumes or paper feather “head–dresses.”
• Don’t use materials where Native heroes are only those who helped Europeans.
• Do use materials which show the continuity of Native societies from past to present.
• Don’t speak as though “Indians” were here only for the benefit of the colonists.
• Don’t teach “Indians” only at Thanksgiving, or make charts about “gifts Indians gave us”.
• Do invite Native community members and artists to the classroom for arts demonstrations
and lectures. Treat them as educators not entertainers.
• Don’t have children make “Indian” crafts unless you know the authentic methods and have
proper materials.
• Do show Native societies as living in a delicate balance with nature. Don’t portray Native peoples as
the “first ecologists”.
• Do use materials which show elders, women and children as integral and important to Native
societies.
• Do use respectful language when teaching about Native peoples. Don’t use offensive terms
such as “squaw”, “brave”, “papoose”, etc.
• Don’t use materials where Native characters speak in “old jawbreaker” or the oratorical style of the
“noble savage”.
• Don’t refer to Native spirituality as “superstition”, nor make up songs, dances, legends or ceremonies,
et al.
• Don’t refer to Native Peoples as the “Red Race”, “Redskins” or “Red Man”.
• And most of all, teach children about Native Americans in a way which you would like used
to depict your cultural/racial/ethnic origin.
Based on “Teaching Respect for Native Peoples” published by Oyate and expanded by Ableza
edited for preschools by Native Child.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@casheroo I find it interesting that you choose this holiday to teach about Native Americans…because I am so much more cynical and would want to teach about how their culture was killed off, etc.

casheroo's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Isn’t that a part of teaching them about Native Americans? I want them to understand who they were first, before I just tell them they were brutalized.

cookieman's avatar

We tell our daughter that Thanksgiving is a time set aside to be with family we can’t always be with and to give thanks for what we have and who we are. We also talk about who we’ve lost this past year and those less fortunate.

Native Americans and Pilgrims aren’t even on the radar, quite frankly. That subject only comes up in school. If it comes up whole doing homework, I make a point of basically explaining the reality of the Pilgrim/Indian story.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@casheroo completely agree, a very good point

Garebo's avatar

If you had even a remote sense of how difficult it was back then and what those people went through you’d be f…ing thankful

laureth's avatar

Which people, @Garebo? Everyone had it hard…

Val123's avatar

Thanksgiving is a reason for everyone to bust their butts to get together. It’s important. The old history, well, some of it was good. The Native Americans of the area DID lend a hand helping the Pilgrims to survive. Not all of the Indians went into Attack Mode. Not all of the White Intruders went into Attack Mode. There were friendships and understanding forged. Why can’t we remember that, and leave the carnage (on both sides) for another time.

cookieman's avatar

@Simone: We talk about their culture (which school does a good job covering) and then explain how the Europeans did no come here to be friends with the Native Americans. While there may have been instances of partnership between them, the Europeans ultimately destroyed them (and much of their culture) in an attempt to steal their land.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Garebo I am perfectly aware of all my privileges and am thankful every single day for what I have and who surrounds me…so unclench

Garebo's avatar

@laureth: What do you mean “which people” they all did, even the rich bastards.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Val123 what other time? when does any of this ever get discussed?

laureth's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – Lots of people where I live discuss such things on Columbus day. Some even wear black armbands on that occasion.

@Garebo – I was wondering what you were implying.

Garebo's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir; thank you, I will chill.

Val123's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir For a later time, when the kids are older and are ready to hear of, or read on their own, of the horrible atrocities committed by both the Native Americans AND the American soldiers during that war, and NOT at Thanksgiving time as discussion around the dinner table or leading up to Thanksgiving dinner.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Val123 well what if they ask why we’re gathering, which mine do and what if they say they learned such and such in school and it’s wrong…do you just ignore it until they’re 18…by that time much of patterns for how they approach the world will be set int…

Garebo's avatar

I like to think of thanksgiving in just that-thanks for everything that you have the people. If I start thinking about at that time this Indian Band member scalped the British Missionary or the British Missionary shot the family I’d go crazy.
I choose to accept it as an occasion of reflection, love and gratitude.

mammal's avatar

I think to have thanksgiving and Xmas within a month or so is pretty indulgent.

Facade's avatar

why ignore the truth?

Val123's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Never had to deal with it. All the kids know is they’re going to Gramma’s for Thanksgiving. As for the rest of it, it’s open to discussion when ever they decide to bring it up. And I would hope they wouldn’t bring up, “Gramma! Did the American soldiers really jam the knifed-out vaginas of the Native American women they slaughtered during that one raid over their saddle horns?” or “Gramma! Did the Indians really scalp people and some of them lived,albeit with with horrific, disfiguring scars?” at the dinner table. There are plenty of reasons to be Thankful, especially in America, and it’s OK to just hang with the family and leave the politics and horror out of it till the next day.

@Garebo Exactly. Thank you.

@mammal It gets us through the worst of the winter here in Kansas!

@Facade Not ignoring it. Saving it for a more appropriate time. I can’t see this as something you could discuss lightly or casually over lunch.

SeventhSense's avatar

As Val says there was a historical evidence for a gathering of early settlers and Native Americans. The gathering was basically a benevolence of the native Indian population of sharing their provisions and there was much gratitude on the part of the Pilgrims. And as a result we celebrate a good thing because it’s good for the heart. Commemorating carnage and death is somewhat depressing.
@ragingloli
the next time you bring a good harvest, I’ll thank you :)

SeventhSense's avatar

@Val123
Your welcome :)

Val123's avatar

@SeventhSense Yeah. It wasn’t ALL carnage and death. But the good tends to get eclipsed by the evil. Every time.

SeventhSense's avatar

Well I don’t know..we still celebrate Thanksgiving..

Val123's avatar

@SeventhSense Yeah. Without the descriptive carnage, except for the turkey gets carnaged. I really think the “original” reason is no longer important. It’s just time for folks to bust their butts to get home…...

Garebo's avatar

Yeah, and we should all be thankful we can eat some free roaming once happy Turkey.

SeventhSense's avatar

Amen. God Bless the bird.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

You could return to the intent of the Lincoln Proclamation and celebrate “we are thankful because it could be worse.”

Daniel Webster is responsible for the whole pilgrims-as-forefathers depiction. Perhaps dismiss it as “urban legend”?

MissAusten's avatar

In our family, Thanksgiving is a time to get together with family, eat and drink too much, and reflect on the many things we have to be thankful for. We don’t get too much into the Pilgrims/Native Americans aspect of the holiday, but focus instead on spending time with family, continuing family traditions, and making memories. And eating and drinking too much.

I’m always a little wary of the “they’ll learn it in school” idea because what kids learn in school isn’t always accurate or unbiased. My daughter, who is in fifth grade, has learned more about history than her younger brothers. I don’t particularly like the theme of how many people have suffered at the hands of the white man, so while I don’t try to gloss things over for her and agree that early Americans did many, many, horrible things, I also point out to her that people are people. I think the myth of the noble savage is a racist idea, and will not promote that. What I don’t like is when my daughter starts to make comments about how white people are bad, why did only white people do this or that, etc. I tell her she is in no way responsible for what people in the past have done, we’re only responsible for our own actions, and that all people across all times in history (no matter what color they are/were) have done terrible things to each other. It’s not a case of “everyone does it so it’s ok,” which of course is not true at all.

Anyway, at school my kids mostly do Thanksgiving activities that revolve around family and being thankful. My first grader did bring home a book he’d made about Pilgrims and Native Americans having a feast together, but all of their other projects were turkeys, thankful books, or family traditions. Same thing for my son’s preschool. If I saw something that was clearly historically inaccurate, I would talk to my kids about it in an age-appropriate way.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Val123 as it should…because especially in this case there was a lot more evil than good…and the evil never gets discussed

Val123's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir What do you mean it never gets discussed? How do we all know about it, then? Plus we’re discussing it now.

@MissAusten It seems like we have a tendency to want to put ALL of the blame squarely on the shoulders of one group of people, when it needs to be shared. Granted, the white men did some crappy stuff, going back on promises, taking back land they had promised to the Indians, so who can blame the Indians for retaliating? But, as Indians are human beings, some, sick individuals committed horrible atrocities upon helpless women and children in the name of that retaliation. Like you said, people are people and we’re all the same. Some better, some far worse. Some normal, some sadistic.
Any way, it’s done, and in the end that war, and it’s motivation, was no different than 10 million other wars that humans have fought in the name of land and power through out the eons. The Indians stole land and women, horses, etc. from other Indians, because they were just like “us”. We just had vastly superior technology. So we “won.”
I think we’ve won in another way, as I hope we’re more humane and civilized today as a society as a whole. (But again, there will be always be individuals within any “humane” society who won’t be.)
Anyway, I was a bit off topic, but no, it never occurs to us to talk about the pilgrims and Indians on or around Thanksgiving! I do talk about Jesus and his birth at Christmas, to stress that’s what it’s supposed to be about.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Val123 I don’t think many people know about it and fluther is not normal life

Val123's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Well, just need to check around, I guess. I’ll start with my kids, find out what they’ve been taught.

turtlegrrrl's avatar

As a ¾ Native American I have taught my kids what I see as realistic about thanksgiving, including what they are taught at school, what really happened in its own context, and what this holiday can be if approached in a certain perspective. I celebrate thanksgiving purely to remind myself each year to be grateful and content and to try to help others in this respect if I can.
My grandfather had a saying, that in life, the only thing guaranteed in our society is money. It can be earned, inherited, stolen, received, found, or made in one way or another. What really counts is what is never guaranteed: friends and family, because those are the true gems in life to be celebrated and thankful for.
I always thought my grandfather was a very wise man. This is what thanksgiving means to my family. It is what you make it.

mattbrowne's avatar

Being grateful and showing appreciation is wonderful. Taking everything for granted is not.

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