Happy Holidays?

During the holiday season, folks are supposed to be “merry and bright,” right? For many of us, that isn’t very easy.

Let’s talk about the US holiday Thanksgiving, a celebration of colonial oppression and overconsumption. For me, Thanksgiving is a mixed bag.

When I was 13, my parents announced on the Sunday after Thanksgiving that they were getting divorced. My mother had made strides to create a huge family tree for my grandmother. She had traced photos of five generations of my stepfathers’ relatives onto fabric that she then made into a quilt for my grandmother. It had taken her over a year to complete the project. It was my parents’ turn to host the family reunion, and they had chosen Thanksgiving as a way to have a one-day celebration, rather than the week-long camping trip that was a family tradition. After all of my mother’s hard work, it was very traumatizing to hear that we were being kicked to the curb. It’s hard to be thankful for a stark reminder of family trauma.

The following Thanksgiving was just as unpleasant. We had dinner with my mom’s family. The siblings had their typical rivalries, but that year’s throwdown involved a disagreement about who would be allowed to participate in the family hunting trip. This had traditionally been a way for my grandfather and uncles to enjoy time in the woods together. I always imagined them eating beans out of a can and burping around the campfire. One uncle’s wife insisted that women were just as capable as men to fire a rifle (which I agreeded with), but this was a family tradition. There was an intense “discussion” about who should be able to participate. One of my aunts chimed in that her husband should be allowed to go hunting with the guys. My grandfather got upset about the infighting, threw his silverware on the table, and shouted, “we’re never hosting Thanksgiving again!”

Another controversial Thanksgiving occurred in 2005. California voters had voted to outlaw same-sex marriage in 2000, but the bill was challenged in the state judicial system until then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger supported the ban on same-sex marriage. The announcement couldn’t have come at a worse time for me, personally. My brother had made contact with my biological father, and my birth family was planning a reunion at Thanksgiving. Mormon Church officials had been very vocal about their support of Prop 22, which made same-sex marriage illegal (and later about their support of California’s Prop 8 – which also banned same-sex marriage). I told my parents that I would not be going to Utah to celebrate Thanksgiving because I didn’t feel safe getting on a plane to go somewhere where queers were not accepted. I decided to spend Thanksgiving with my chosen moms. In the spirit of gratitude, I called my chosen siblings and told them how much I appreciated their love. We cried together, and told them that I was thankful to have loving family members who accepted me for being me.

Over a decade has passed since the last Thanksgiving meltdown. In an attitude of gratitude (to quote the current head of the LDS church President Thomas S. Monson), I am thankful that my genetic family and I have mended our fences. I am happy to say that cancer has been a blessing, not a curse, because it has broken down the barriers that had kept me from being close to my birth family. I am grateful that we talk on the phone, and that I can help my mom run errands. Family feuds are not insurmountable. And “love is all you need” (according to The Beatles).

I’ll save the discussion of colonialism for another post. Happy Thanksgiving, and Blessed Be.

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