Our national Day of Thanksgiving has come and gone. And so has the national Day of Mourning. Both were commemorated this past Thursday. The one by millions. The other by a handful of Native Americans at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Most Americans celebrate the Pilgrims landing in 1620. Native Americans do not. Most Americans buy the myth of Pilgrim philanthropy toward the Wampanoag. Native Americans do not.
Since 1970 the United American Indians of New England have commemorated a National Day of Mourning. It’s a day to honor Native ancestors and Native peoples’ struggle to survive. It’s a day of remembrance as well as protest against racism and oppression that Native Americans still experience. It’s preceded by a day of fasting.
I get it. Life is not always jolly.
There is a time to dance and a time to mourn.
Still, I can celebrate Thanksgiving without swallowing the Pilgrim myth, just as many celebrate Christmas without swallowing the Virgin Birth, the serenading angels, or the Magi’s astrology. We wink at the myth and embrace the spirit of the day.
We give thanks. We exchange gifts. We let the myth have its day.
But myths are not facts.
I cherish many myths—Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, the rising phoenix—but I cherish the truth more.
The Pilgrims and their successors undertook the genocide of millions of Native peoples, the theft of Native lands, and a relentless assault on Native cultures.
We have many holidays for merrymaking. But we don’t have a holiday for mourning, a time to pause and remember our transgressions.
The Jewish people do. On Yom Kippur they remember their sins, their failures at love and justice. It’s a day of fasting. It’s solemn but not sad. Mercy greets the repentant.
When we remember our transgressions, confess, and make amends, we find redemption. We walk in the light. When we forget or deny our transgressions, we walk in darkness.
We can be thankful any day. But Thanksgiving concentrates the mind on gratitude.
We can be remorseful any day. But a day of remembrance would concentrate our minds on contrition.
On such a day we would acknowledge the ways we have wounded ourselves and others, including Mother Earth and her creatures. We would fast. We would confess. We would weep. We would resolve to make reparations.
We need a national Day of Remembrance.
A humble nation becomes a better nation.
See Paula’s “Sunrise on Bear’s Rocks, Dolly Sods” photograph on the home page.