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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Letterman

Thoughts from This Therapist: The Toxicity of Thanksgiving

The works in this series will always be the opinion of the writer (me, Rebecca). Therapy and healing is not a one-size-fits-all box, so keep that in mind when reading. Everything in this series will come from my experiences both as a therapist and patient. I hope it gives you insight into different perspectives, and gives me a place to share thoughts on topics I feel are important. Enjoy!

NOTE: This post talks about Thanksgiving, family, and briefly mentions trauma (in no specific detail). Keep that in mind when deciding whether to read.

“What do you mean the toxicity of Thanksgiving? Isn’t Thanksgiving about being thankful for the things we have in life and enjoying time with family and friends?”

Well, kind of. But I want to have a real conversation about Thanksgiving as a holiday, and why I call it toxic, acknowledging both the good and the bad. You do not have to agree with me for us to respect each other, so please keep that in mind when reading this.

Let me start this by saying: I believe in being thankful for what we have in life, both the good and the bad. I believe in, and actively practice, living with gratitude. My dislike of Thanksgiving has nothing to do with that, but rather with the history of the day and how we are celebrating a day/event that actually led to many bad things happening.

I was always taught, as most kids are today, that we are to be thankful because we are remembering the day that the Indgenous people of this country and the white men who came over to this land found peace amongst each other and ate a meal together. That sounds lovely, right? Too bad it’s more myth than fact, and the peace didn’t stay.

If you actually look at the history of North America, you will learn how those white men consistently did (and do) many horrendous things to the indigenious people of the land. Their land was stolen, their homes destroyed, natural resources killed off; they were forced to walk for miles in awful conditions, losing thousands along the way; women were raped and killed; and many were murdered just for not being white. Uncountable numbers of people have been killed in the name of white progress.

Even to this day, the indigenous people of our country are treated with inequality and inequity. They do not have the same rights as white citizens, and are looked down upon. Their history is not taught to a proper extent in public schools (in my opinion), and to really learn about it you have to do your own research. The horrors that befell these individuals were so bad that white people try to sweep it under the rug and then patch it over with the story of the first meal together (a pattern throughout history that we continue to see play out).

To me it is not only sad, but devastating to know how horribly the indigenous are treated by those who stole their land and killed their people. I remember hearing lots of stories about how the indegenious people attacked white men and were violent and evil. Yet when I’ve done the research, I quickly learned that it was the other way around, and the indigenous people were just trying to protect themselves, their land, and their families. It is very likely that maybe the indgenious people of the land did attack the white men, but my question: was it truly unprovoked?

So to me, it is toxic to celebrate Thanksgiving in the traditional way. I am open with all who know me about my beliefs of this day, and although we do have a “traditional” meal our time together is not about remembering that first meal but being truly grateful for life. And we have discussions about what really transpired. Including how that affects my husband and kids, who are part indigenous.

Another very toxic trait of Thanksgiving, as with many celebrated holidays, is the expectation to spend time with family. For many, spending time with family around any holiday can be wonderful. However, there is a whole other group of us for whom spending time with family causes us pain and trauma. And if we try to not spend time with family, they push us and guilt trip us.

Or they can say “alright you don’t have to spend Thanksgiving with us but you must come over sometime during the long weekend.” This is also not fair to push the boundaries of one who is trying to establish good boundaries and protect themselves. Yet for some reason, it seems like families do not feel they have to respect boundaries around holidays and can push them.

I will talk more about boundaries in two weeks for my next post. For now, I would just like to say I hope that however you celebrate (or don’t), that you have a wonderful day and are able to just take time to relax and be thankful for what life has to offer.

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