We Can Decide
Over the years, we’ve come to learn a lot about the storied history and intent behind Thanksgiving. It has represented different things to different people since its inception and has evolved over the years to what we know today. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Native Americans shared a harvest meal that many believe was one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. At least that’s the way the story had always been told.
For many Indigenous people, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning and protest. We have been offered another view of the day that acknowledges the arrival of settlers in North America. We are reminded of the years of cruelty and death that followed for Native Americans.
For early Blacks, Thanksgiving was the time of the year that enslaved people would often try to escape due to the end of crop season. The holiday represented the beginning of the closing of the old year and preparation for the next season of planting. It led to New Year’s Day, which for Blacks signaled a time of family separation. According to a 2019 article in Time Magazine, New Year’s Day used to be widely known as “Hiring Day” — or “Heartbreak Day,” as the African-American abolitionist journalist William Cooper Nell described it — because enslaved people spent New Year’s Eve waiting, wondering if their owners were going to rent them out to someone else, thus potentially splitting up their families. Thanksgiving was the first marker that the new year was coming.
Today, in some regards it is no different. Thanksgiving kicks off the string of holidays that most remind us of the importance of family and allow us to look forward to the coming year. While we face a dissimilar set of challenges, to include COVID-19, racial and social unrest, and political turmoil, the holiday represents an opportunity to recalibrate our priorities. We flock to see our families for emotional and tangible support. They center our values, remind us of what is important and what we need to tackle the issues of the day. The issues have changed and so has the way we connect to our families.
I join health care professionals, across the state, in encouraging residents to stay home during this holiday season. We have endured a lot this year and our natural instinct is to go where we feel most loved and appreciated. However, we can’t ignore the thousands of families who have lost a loved one to the cruelty of this coronavirus outbreak. We can’t risk the lives of those we love or our own for the chance at dinner or a weekend together. We have seen difficult days before and survived. Today, we have been blessed with advanced technology and resources to help us endure temporary physical separations from those we love.
Looking back at history, Thanksgivings have taught us about loss and hope. We have the ability to influence the Thanksgivings of the future. Though, it depends on how smart we are today about masks, social distancing, and staying home when needed.