The New Calendar: Halloween to Christmas

It happens every year. October rolls around, and everyone gets spooky. We spend a whole month indulging in pumpkin patches, pumpkin carving, costume shopping, scary movies, and maybe even a party or two. October 31st comes and goes, and then…

 

November 1st arrives. It’s the first day of Christmas. Halloween decorations are all but flung out of store windows. Fake snow replaces fake spiderwebs. Candy canes replace candy corn. Forget about The Monster Mash. Turn up All I Want For Christmas Is You. Find the best Christmas playlists on Spotify. Christmas is here. Christmas has begun.

 

Wait, some of you may be thinking. There’s something between those. Aren’t you forgetting about Thanksgiving?

 

To those of you who ask this question every year, when Halloween is followed by the first day of Christmas, I’m here to answer you: no. We aren’t forgetting anything. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November. That’s it. That’s all it gets.

 

The story we are often told in classrooms is this: In 1692, Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans shared a feast. Today, we call it the first Thanksgiving. After this, each colony began to hold a day of thanks sometime in autumn. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday (History.com). This is very simplified, and maybe it’s more than you learned in school. It’s more than I learned. Here’s the thing, though―it’s too clean. This story forgets all of the terrible things colonists did to Native Americans since arriving in the Americas.

 

Listen, I’m all for the day of Thanksgiving. I love the holidays, and I love the concept of having a special day to appreciate your loved ones a little more, and explicitly thank them and give thanks for them. But I think it’s equally important to remember how indigenous people have been treated in this country, especially because this particular holiday is so closely tied to those whose land we stole. Just as we’re slowly starting to call Columbus Day, Indigenous People’s Day, Thanksgiving should hold some honest historical significance. Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples I could give to show the historical mistreatment of indigenous people, but I’ll keep it down to just a few.

 

When colonists started coming to what is now the United States, they brought with them diseases that were unknown to Native Americans. With no previous exposure to these diseases, the native population decreased at an alarming rate. It is presumed that up to 90% of the Native American population died after being exposed to European diseases (NCpedia). Colonists came to the Americas, claimed land they truly had no right to, and forced Native Americans to change their way of life. With trade being such an important part of the colonists lives, some tribes, like the Iroquois, began to spend more time fur trapping (American History). As colonists began to claim more land, Native Americans were forced out of their own land―land which they believed no one could really own. Land was thought of to be for anyone’s use, although the European colonists believed differently. As more people arrived, more land was claimed, which left less land and fewer resources to be shared. Battles often broke out, and it was usually the Native Americans who suffered the most from these battles, almost always losing (ManyThings). Today, though it was the European settlers who came to this land, Native Americans are given reservations to live on, which make up only about 2.3% of the area of the United States. Really think about that: Europeans came here, claimed land, forced indigenous people out of land they used, and now, indigenous people are only given 2.3% of land here. There are more than 550 federally recognized tribes, but only about 310 reservations in the U.S. (What is a Reservation?).

Another event that is super important for us to remember is the Trail of Tears, which is often incredibly white washed or even erased from American history textbooks. In the early 1800s, when white settlers decided they wanted to plant more cotton on Native territory, Native Americans were rounded up and forced to leave their homeland to walk thousands of miles to designated “Indian territory.” Prior to getting government help to steal more Native land, white settlers stole, burned, looted, killed, and forced their way onto Native land. The Supreme Court made it clear that state and federal governments had no right to force Native Americans to conform to settler’s laws, but very little was done to enforce this. When Andrew Jackson became president, he was a big supporter of the “Indian removal,” signing the Indian Removal Act in 1830. This law said the U.S. government was supposed to negotiate with Native Americans to get them to peacefully and voluntarily leave their land―there was nothing peaceful and very rarely anything voluntary about it. Native Americans were once again forced off their land into places that were more convenient for white settlers. Native Americans walked thousands of miles on foot with no food, supplies, or help. As many died along the way, one Choctaw leader described it as “a trail of tears and death” (History).

 

Remember that all of us have benefited from the mistreatment of indigenous people. Remember this did not only happen in what is now the United States. Remember what this country was built on and what it did to Native Americans. Remember this on Thanksgiving, and next year on Thanksgiving, and year round. It’s a privilege that we can celebrate Thanksgiving without ever having to think of this, and it’s wrong that we take advantage of that. This time of year is for giving thanks, but it should also be for remembering and for helping. Think about ways you can get involved and support indigenous groups. There are a lot of organizations that focus on supporting Native Americans, and the very least we can do is support these organizations.