Thanksgiving, the Stone Soup Holiday

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Holidays that focus on eating large amounts of food generally get high ratings from me.

As my friend Sam recently explained to me: I am a skinny fat kid.

So I want to write about Thanksgiving but I’m having a really hard time because, even though I like that we’re into this giving thanks thing, and even though I like that it usually manifests in familial gatherings and potlucks and generosity (and hopefully some super frustrating ideological arguments — my favorite), it’s really hard to justify not thinking more about the real deal with the relationship between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

In fact, it’s really hard to justify not thinking about the existing relationship between the United States government and Native Americans, especially when we consider that we’re making a whole fuss about a supposedly great moment we all shared together way back when we sat at the first (mythical) Thanksgiving feast and supposedly ate turkey. And then we, the oh-so-magnanimous-and-grateful whites, proceeded to slaughter Native Americans.

I started thinking about the story of Stone Soup and maybe it’s a stretch, but it occurred to me that there is this essence of “forced generosity” in the whole thing that is cool on one level, and maybe a little sinister on another.

It’s good for us to share our food. It’s good for us to eat together (studies show that little kids who eat sitting next to one another at a table actually play better together during recess and free times). But it’s not good for us to be dishonest or manipulative.

On the one hand, the Stone Soup travelers are just surviving; they’ve figured out that they can make a magnificent soup by asking for less than what the villagers expected them to ask for. In the end, they share with everyone and it’s lovely and maybe a little Jesus-and-the-loaves-of-bread-esque because there’s enough to fill all the bellies. On the other hand, you can sort of imagine that the villagers are hungry, they’ve worked hard for their food, and they don’t really want to share with a band of roaming strangers even though they probably should if they’re thinking much about karma.

In parallel, according to the Thanksgiving myth, Native Americans gave of their own crops and knowledge to the pilgrims, and everybody had this fantastic feast and it was all great when, in reality, it wasn’t all great and even if there actually was a moment of respite when the Native Americans and the illegal immigrants from Europe all sat down and ate together once or a few times. If the myth is even near reality, then it’s a story about one group doing good and then getting massacred. And they’re tricked into doing it by people who just keep making promises with them and then just keep breaking the promises.

I’m not sure if the analogy works. Also, given that I really like the Stone Soup story and I really like celebrating Thanksgiving, maybe I shouldn’t be complaining, but I wish we thought about it more often and tried to think about how we can be truly generous without being dishonest or conniving.

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6 responses »

  1. So Rylee,

    I have to say I never really ‘got’ thanksgiving for this reason. It makes me think: so you’re celebrating stabbing people in the back,after they’ve helped, you by massacreing them? Yay America! But I get that’s it traditional and meant to celebrate this moment of peace – like when everyone played football together in no-man’s-land in the war. And besides, we have Guy Fawkes Night.

    But I definitely think it’s valid to raise the issue, especially concerning how Native Americans are still treated, which I knew nothing about until I met you guys.

    I just read that Stone Soup story. Seems to me that the travellers were tricking the villagers into helping them. Maybe there was some of that going on with the Pilgrims, too. But I don’t know enough about it to know either way. Seems likely, though.

    Also, have you seen The New World? It’s a really good film about this time. It’s essentially the Pocahontas story stripped down to its roots. It’s by Malick, though, so not to everyone’s taste!

    I think this might be the longest blog comment in the history of blog comments.

    Bye

    Louise

    • Oh Louise, this is a fabulous comment.

      I’m interested to see The New world — but I’m not familiar with Malick, so I don’t know if it wouldn’t be my taste. Maybe this calls for a movie night? (I really just want popcorn, so we could pretty much watch anything).

      Unfortunately, I think most cultures have these blind moment holidays that refuse to acknowledge their own historical base. It’s frustrating, but worth commenting on, I think, even if it has to be done over and over again.

      The Stone Soup story is wonderful as a children’s book, and everything works out in the end, but I feel like there’s something manipulative in it. That’s probably where I’m seeing a connection, although I wasn’t sure I developed the thought very well.

      I am very happy for this comment, xo

  2. I blogged on nearly the same thing. I decided to ask some Native friends of mine what they thought and they’d really like to get past it and start forgiveness and repair of their people. She commented on my blog about it under the post A Day of Mourning unread of Thanksgiving.

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