Tradition, they say, is the fabric of our lives and to some extent, I agree.
Tradition grounds us in routine and practice, which then leads to lifestyles whose bases lie in whatever started our traditions. Traditions help us emphasize what’s important to us as a community, a people and a nation and that’s precisely what made this current Thanksgiving so unsettling for me.
For years now, I’ve been forced to contrast the sense of North American Thanksgiving with the annual Thanksgiving (Harvest) which I grew up with in the Nigerian Anglican Church (and Nigerian Roman Catholic, Baptist, etc.). In the latter, the annual Thanksgiving which according to the church calendar also fell somewhere around the first or second Sunday in November, was about bringing to the fore all the blessings and mercies received from God during the year. People from all walks of life came to church on that day, with a gift that symbolized either the area they’d received a blessing in (e.g., merchants and traders) or a gift that was a token of their gratitude for what God had done for them throughout the year. The service was a long, drawn-out service that was filled with personal offering time, where those with special offerings would dance to the altar with their families and friends to lay down their gifts, and the whole church would support them with joyous, loud singing and exuberant dancing. This was the annual Thanksgiving I’d been exposed to my entire life…until the States became my home.
In the States, the first shocking awakening was that Thanksgiving was not a ‘Christian’ thing, but rather a ‘national’ thing. It was a memorial that commemorated the survival of the Pilgrims that first harsh winter of occupying Native American land, a time when the Pilgrims and the Native Americans had their first ‘party of survival’ together.
I’ve never gotten used to the Thanksgiving of my new country. I’m always unsettled because I can never quite relate the celebrations to my faith. This unease became more pronounced after my recent spiritual journey with the other sisters of the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage.
The sisters of the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage came from many diverse ethnic groups in America, and together, we visited historic sites that held artifacts and stories of the courageous struggles of people of color and stories of the unconscionable and inhumane suffering they had received at the hands of their White brothers and sisters.
As part of my work for CBE-Voices of Color Chapter, I try my utmost to connect with and listen for people of color, particularly Christians, in an effort to see and hear what equality looks like for them in America and the world. My efforts led me to Kaitlin Curtice on Twitter, through whom I’ve been listening for and to the Native American story. But it wasn’t until my Ruby Woo Pilgrimage that I was really drawn into her story, as I encountered another Native American sister, Ruth Anna Buffalo on the journey. As I stood beside my sister, something in me absorbed her pain, the pain of her people and the untold stories in their breasts. All of which made me wonder what equality would look like for my sisters and their people in a country that still does not fully recognize the place of her people.
With a heavy heart that knew that people of color were still very far from equality in America and the world, I returned home to be met with the preparations for Thanksgiving and I knew that for a fact I could never celebrate the current American Thanksgiving. I knew that it was time to start redressing certain cultures and traditions in mainstream America if we are to obtain any similitude of equality for people of color. Particularly those whose histories, presence, and voices are subtly obliterated by our traditions.
Traditions emphasize who we are and what we believe about ourselves. The tradition of Thanksgiving in America is not one that gives equal space to the truth that Native Americans are a people that have constantly been abused by our sense of ‘America.’
One of the deepest impressions from my Ruby Woo Pilgrimage was that it’s not okay to be silent in the face of injustice and any kind of wrong. That it doesn’t take special people to correct injustices, but ordinary, everyday folks who care enough about their neighbor to demand justice on their behalf.
I want the American Thanksgiving story to change to give room for those who were hurt and who still continue to be hurt by the Thanksgiving we now celebrate. I am one ordinary person, one lonely voice, but I’m not the only voice. Native Americans are our brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, mothers, fathers, grandparents, colleagues, etc.. Let’s start to listen to their stories, invite their cultures into our spaces, celebrate their holidays rather than the holidays that obliterated their space and voice in this great nation.
The first step to equality is willingness to affirm the equal worth of every human and until our current celebrations in America deliberately give equal space to the celebrations and cultures of all who are Americans, the concept of equality will remain elusive and unattainable. We can do that by giving different people groups their space and not white-washing or being authors of their narratives. It is their story to tell. It is our place to listen and learn and then find a way to do better by them.
Today, I will not say Happy Thanksgiving to anyone. Today, I will share the stories of my Native American brothers and sisters, whose voices have been overshadowed by colonialism and imperialism.
To learn more about honoring some important voices this Thanksgiving and beyond, please visit and share these sites:
- Kaitlin Curtice
- PBS – Teaching Kids About Thanksgiving
- Huffington Post
- Also check out Thanksgiving Resources by Kaitlin Curtice
- Follow Ruth Anna Buffalo on Twitter and on Facebook