By Safia Karasick Southey
Thanksgiving is a complicated tradition for most Americans, and especially those abroad. It’s a time when families and loved ones typically crowd around an overflowing table of delicious classically American food and give thanks for all the good they take for granted while cozied together in refuge from the cold November outside. But it’s also essentially celebrating the genocide of America’s indigenous peoples. As 2A Madison Haussy described it, Thanksgiving is the celebration of “tricking the Native Americans into helping us survive, and then immediately f***king them over.”
There are various issues with celebrating Thanksgiving here in Menton: one being the fact that the big fuss made over it may come off as Americans once again forcing their traditions upon other students (however, it is an invitational event and not harassment), but the larger issue is the perpetuation of the myth of historical friendship between the Pilgrims and Native Americans and the lovely dinner they had. In fact, the day on which Thanksgiving is celebrated is not the anniversary of a dinner between the two groups as famously believed, but the safe return of a militia who had murdered over 700 Pequots.
Many non-American students were conflicted about the celebration of the day, confused at how the American could be so excited by such a somber occasion. International students had varying opinions on the day. “As a non-American I guess it doesn’t have the same weight,” Danielle Vido commented, “but I like the idea of just being thankful for the opportunity we have and spending some time with our year group which we don’t normally get to do outside of class.” Others, such as Negar Mohtashami Khojasteh, commented that “it’s kinda f***ked up, the celebration of a genocide. I understand it’s culture, but you can say the same about female genital mutilation. We could have a day to give thanks but also understand the damage the foreigners did to the indigenous.”
However, as Tunisian-American student Nour Trabelsi explained, “even though its origins are less than honorable, I believe that the spirit of Thanksgiving is great, especially in a country like the US, it’s something that unites everyone.”
Although it is an American holiday, many of the Americans on campus (such as myself) celebrated their first real Thanksgiving in Menton, cooking up all the traditional dishes that they may have never made before in their lives. Being abroad seems to bring a greater sense of patriotism, with students who want to share their nation’s cultures and traditions with their new friends.
For American Madeleine Nephew: “This thanksgiving was actually the most traditional thanksgiving I’ve ever had; because I was spending it with other Americans I watched the peanuts special and the parade for the first time ever. It was wonderful sharing Thanksgiving with non-Americans but also sharing different Thanksgiving traditions with other Americans.” Genevieve Grant agreed, noting: “Throughout my life, all the best Thanksgivings have been while living overseas. Thanksgiving is entirely more fun and more meaningful when it’s not in the States because it can be about sharing your culture, and recognizing something that you don’t get to do every day. We may seem like obnoxious Americans 24/7, but I don’t feel like it until I’ve got a playlist on that’s half political rap music, half country.”
The best part of Thanksgiving in Menton is that it is not just a day for the American students – everyone brings their own culture to the table, leading to a mix of foods and world views that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. And while this may lead to tummy aches and tears following too much turkey and too many political debates, that’s the true spirit of Thanksgiving.
But we shouldn’t require such a contentious day to get together and celebrate our friends and loved ones. We don’t need to get rid of the holiday, but we should reconsider what we are truly celebrating. As Rhe-Anne Tan noted, “It’s nice to have a day to commemorate things and remind people to be grateful, but I do feel like sometimes it gets a bit performative – true gratitude needs to happen year round, and the fact that it’s a holiday associated with giving thanks doesn’t square well with the history of the day and the general historical amnesia upon which the US is founded.”
People need to find a balance between tradition and awareness; they should commit to the spirit of Thanksgiving by being conscious of the historical legacy of the day, not erasing that narrative. We must continue to make these celebrations as inclusive and open as possible, and make sure that their conceptions of gratitude include an acknowledgement of privilege, and a commitment to do more. Plus, you should never turn down an opportunity to blast Beyoncé’s cover of “I’m Proud To Be An American.”
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Le Zadig and its editorial board.