Thanksgiving Revolution: Suggestions for a Decolonized and Amazon-Free Holiday

Today, Retake examines our Thanksgiving and holiday traditions and offers thoughts on what can be a good time for reflection on our history and our future.

Thanksgiving Reconsidered

Thanksgiving had always been my favorite holiday because it had been one of the few holidays that hadn’t been hijacked by Hallmark, Wal-Mart and Amazon and because it focused on a gathering of family and good friends. But with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday nonsense and the piling on of sales designed to lure you and I into purchasing new stuff that we don’t really need, even Thanksgiving is now a marketing tool for the big box and online stores.

But the commercialization of Thanksgiving is not all that is wrong with the holiday.  There is the mythology that Thanksgiving was some kind of peaceful celebration of Indigenous peoples and colonists who joined together in gratitude, a sort of national equivalent of the Entrada here in Santa Fe.  Well, just as the peaceful character of the Entrada is a myth, so too with Thanksgiving.

So how can each of us respect our Indigenous neighbors, avoid the commercialization of the holiday and still preserve the value of meeting and eating with good friends and family and expressing our gratitude for things for which we should be grateful?  You don’t have to trash the holiday and cast a big downer shadow over your family celebration. But you can inject just a bit of honest reflection on how our history and Thanksgiving really have unfolded..This post provides a few suggestions, links and even three videos that might make it possible for everyone to use the Thanksgiving holiday as a moment of authenticity and to create some honest conversation.

To give you some perspective, Truthout published a very good guide to demythologizing Thanksgiving. I highly recommend it.  Click here. I have also provided three short videos which, each in their own way dispels the myth of Thanksgiving. But whether or not you share these videos or what you learn from the Truthout article with your family, there are ways in which you can approach the holiday more honestly.

A moment of silence, a prayer or just a comment inviting honest reflection and conversation about how the US has treated Indigenous people. Each of us will have our own way of introducing the notion that Thanksgiving is not an honest representation of any moment in history or at all representative of our relationship with Indigenous peoples. But any gathering can otter a ‘teachable moment,’ no matter how politically conservative or apolitical your family may be. 

If you want to take advantage of this teachable moment, just put some kind of comment or even a prayer into your own words, a brief statement to be shared at your Thanksgiving table, something that acknowledges that you are standing on stolen land or that the holiday we celebrate as Thanksgiving has been sanitized, that it is another form of fake news, and that we should take a moment to acknowledge our Indigenous peoples. and consider how we as a Nation have stolen their land and tried to destroy their culture. Everyone’s Thanksgiving customs will be different, some families would bridle at reference to genocide over a Thanksgiving table, others would welcome the prayer and see it as an opportunity to talk more honestly about our history for a bit of the meal. How you handle this is obviously going to be determined by the people around the table and your comfort level with being a tad disruptive. My advice: gentle disruption of comfortable and false assumptions is a very good thing.

You may only briefly reference to how the US has horribly mistreated Indigenous people and that if we examined how they have lived in harmony with the earth, we could actually learn something.  Or you could deepen the conversation to consider how our history and culture have exploited women, communities, of color or labor. To tie it back to Thanksgiving you could ask everyone to consider how they might use some of their time and resources in the coming year to addresses these historic injustices. See where that goes.  But especially in this politically unmoored time, with Trump and others espousing increasingly xenophobic and nationalist values, grounding a family holiday in reflection on who we are as a people and who we could become, seems valuable.

Use Thanksgiving to discuss and create a new family/friend tradition around the holiday season. One of the most obvious differences between colonialist and Indigenous peoples is their respective relationship to the earth, air and water. Colonialism feeds on consumerism and growth, growth that foments ‘traditions’ like Black Friday and a litany of other ‘holidays’ or events that promote wanton over-consumption, while for centuries Indigenous peoples have lived in a more balanced harmony with mother earth. So how about asking those at your Thanksgiving table to consider a more minimalist approach this winter holiday, whether Xmas, Hanukkah or whatever your winter holiday of choice. Below Retake offers a range of non-Amazon-based alternatives that foster not buying for ourselves, but contributing to social justice organizations as an alternative to your making a wish list of books, wines, kitchen gadgets and sweaters that you’d like for the holidays…. a wish list that inevitably leads your friends and family to head to Amazon and click away. But do you really need new socks, another pan, an exotic imported vinegar, or a goofy holiday sweater? 

Beyond the social value of donating to others engaged in the struggle for social justice, there are a litany of reasons not to do business with Amazon and no matter where you buy on line, your purchases travel a tortured path of trucks, planes and more trucks to get to you. The host of charges against Amazon for worker exploitation is well reported, but if you need more, click here. In addition, Amazon refuses to provide data to the Carbon Footprint Disclosure program, something done by most all its competitors, including Wal-Mart, Costco, Microsoft and others. To read about the Footprint Disclosure Project and Amazon’s refusal to cooperate with it and its refusal to even report on its footprint with shareholders, click here. Lastly, Amazon sells guns, toxic chemicals, and anything anyone wants to sell, regardless of its benefit to the community or the world.

Most local book stores employ local people and sell books and coffee; they don’t sell guns and toxics.  So Retake has assembled a way to ask your friends and family to participate in a more sustainable holiday season, one that does not rely upon trucks and planes and gift wrapping and focuses on giving back and if family really wants gifts, then gifts that nourish the soul and mind that can be purchased locally.

Donate, Don’t Buy. 

This is such an easy way to simplify the holidays and to prioritize our values over our thirst for more stuff.  All you have to do is to write to those with whom you historically exchange gifts and indicate that:  “I don’t really want more ties or gadgets. I have enough and many have far too little. And so this year, I am asking you not to purchase me any gifts, but rather to simply pick one of the organizations below and make a donation in my name.”  Retake offers these local organizations as suggestions, but you can pick one or two of these or identify your own favorite non-profit. But it is as easy to click to a donate button as it is to click to a buy button. Which will more meaningfully express your values?

  • Click here to contribute to TEWA Women’s United, was formed to end all forms of violence against Native Women and girls, Mother Earth and to promote peace in New Mexico. Most recently, TEWA Women’s United collaborated with Communities for Clear Water to organize opposition to LANL’s handling of the chromium plume threatening our water. .
  • Click here, to contribute to Somos Un Pueblo Unido. Somos works to build a community that does not discriminate against people based on their national origin, that institutes humane migration policies, and that protects the human rights of everyone irrespective of where they are born or what documents they carry
  • Click here to contribute to the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. SF Dreamers provides free legal services to immigrants to promote economic empowerment, community development, family unity, and liberation from detention.  Their work is centered around the belief that supporting immigrants makes our whole community stronger.
  • Click here to contribute to Chainbreaker Collective.  Chainbreaker works to expand access to affordable housing and affordable transportation and to support economically and environmentally sustainable communities for low-income people in Northern New Mexico.
  • Click here to contribute to Earth Care. Earth Care is a youth empowerment and community development organization that educates, empowers and supports the positive development of young people.  They cultivate the natural innovation and creativity of youth to create health, just and sustainable communities and they place youth at the center of all they do.
  • Click here to contribute to New Energy Economy. NEE is a climate change hero and the dogged opposition to PNM. They seek to build a renewable energy future for the  health of our community and our environment.
  • Click here to contribute to KSFR, your publicly supported radio station, the voice of Santa Fe and the home of Retake Our Democracy’s weekly radio show that airs at 8:30am every Saturday.
  • Click here to contribute to the Joan Duffy Santa Fe Chapter of Veterans for Peace. Veterans for Peace advocates with its allies to ensure that the perspective, needs and priorities of veterans are respected and to advocate for peace.

Some families and friends just won’t be able to get through December if they can’t get you something to open.  For those folks, I recommend that you pick a local store where you like to shop and provide a link or phone number to that store or restaurant. Almost any business now has a gift certificate link and you can offer that up to your family and friends who really want to give you something. In Santa Fe, we recommend Collected Works. 505 988-4336. 202 Galisteo St. or where you can find out their ongoing range of events. For those of you who live in Las Cruces, ABQ you can use google to locate a local store where you might shop and get a link to a gift certificate page.

Another alternative and something to consider giving to others are subscriptions to magazines like The Nation or Yes!  These are gifts that deliver invaluable information and perspective on a weekly (The Nation) or monthly (Yes!) basis.

Lots of options. We hope you will consider some of these ideas and share them with family and friends today. Now it is time to get crackin’ on the stuffing prep.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

P.S. We really don’t want to cast a shadow over a revered holiday. But maybe we do need to rethink this holiday and a whole bunch of other of our habitual traditions and learn to live a more sustainable life. Cheers.










Categories: Personal & Collective Action

Tags: ,

6 replies

  1. Filled with really thoughtful suggestions on this “Thanksgiving Day”. Our family have transitioned the third Thursday in November to a “Harvest Gathering” focused on gratitude toward the land/environment that sustains us. Instead of “Black Friday” shopping we are adopting (this year) “Blackout Friday-Monday”. Honestly, none of us could make a short-list of what exactly this “holiday” celebrated.

  2. Paul and Roxanne,

    Just a quick note: my cousins in Canada celebrate a thanksgiving, too, in October — to show appreciation for a good harvest — as well as for being with family and friends. Apparently, it is not intended to distinguish between First Nations and the Euro-Canadians.

    Perhaps those of us “south of the border”, :–) , so to speak, could emulate our fellow North Americans up north.

    – Yours

    – Harold “Spike” Murphree

  3. Hi Paul and Roxanne and fellow travelers

    Paul, I know you could not think or write like you do without the quiet energy of your great partner, Roxanne, who I wish to recognize and be thankful for today. This alleged holiday is a keystone for me like few others. Angle Saxon progeny, like myself, growing up in rural amerika, were and still are the guinea pigs for the Pilgrim progaganda you so elaborately reveal in today’s post.

    My genetic family is the settler class, northern European agriculturists who fled the Crimean War and serfdom in Prussia and the Ukraine. Back then, my family were servants of the landed gentry, the possessors of land (property) via entitlement, aggression, manipulation or outright thievery. From the first days my ancestors arrived in NA, if not before, the dream was to be in possession of private property, the equivalent of the baron’s fiefdom. They were spoonfed all the notions you, and the great article you referenced, fed them by the colonial aggressors of their time. Natives were heathens, bereft of the Christian god, subhuman, undeserving of anything but enslavement or death by murder.

    In Nebraska, my birthplace, I was surrounded by Native lore, all of it past tense. Museums, place names (Nebraska translates ‘land of braided waters’ in Pawnee), historical references of battles, killings, captures, burial sites, etc. I went to school with two classmates of Native blood, with Saxon last names, and whose ancestry was never mentioned. A prominent billboard in the region my dad and I often drove by on fishing trips proclaimed that ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Natives, oxymoronically portrayed as both noble savages and incorrigable murderers, were the fodder for amerikan colonial expansion, the defeated heathens slewn by god’s righteous armies.

    None of it made any sense to me. So I began to read John Neihardt, the author of Black Elk Speaks, Dee Brown and many others. That made sense. Then came Marx and Engels and the ridicule of the nobility of possession of private property. So when I moved to NM 45 years ago, and was surrounded by living Natives, of many different cultures, the contradicitions I had felt about the Pilgrim versions of white patriarchy toward the First Nations peoples became clear to me.

    All my ambivalence about what I saw and felt as a youth versus what I experienced and still experience here faded away. Lies are weapons of mass destruction. Amerikan culture is built on lies, feeds on lies, destroys anything of true value with lies, and quite obviously is addicted to lies and lying.

    The phony ‘leadership’ of the country is enslaved by lies. It is hypocricy to insist that this holiday has any semblence of truth. We can enjoy it as a respectful gathering to share any fortune short of misery. But until we stop lying to ourselves and others, we dishonor any harvest of the bounty we are still afforded by a planet and its innocent inhabitants, both human and non-human.

    I have a very cynical saying, but keep saying it because I see it as true – Idle talk is worthless, empty words are poison. Count your blessings, but name them, one by one.

    Mick Nickel

  4. Thank you Mick for reminding me of one of the most important and oldest of human festivities. The ingathering of the community to celebrate the last harvest. If enough of us come together to imagine a different, thoroughly connected to the land and to all life holy-day, we can leave Thanksgiving for the history books as both, a lesson on our history and a lesson on change and on what is possible.
    And ‘mil gracias’ to Roxane and Paul! eduardo


  1. A Look Back & Forward: Reinventing Thanksgiving, Gift-Giving & the Roundhouse | Retake Our Democracy

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: