In Canada, when Halloween season ends, the pumpkins are swiftly replaced with Christmas lights. During my first year in university, I looked on this transition with abject horror. What about Thanksgiving?
Sure, Canada celebrates their own Thanksgiving in early October, but, to me, this day has none of the charisma of America’s version.
Growing up, my mother would insist that we all put on our muumuus — free-flowing, soft pyjamas — and watch NBC’s Thanksgiving Day Parade followed by the football game. We rooted for the Eagles and Packers. We despised the Cowboys and Patriots. We built a fire in the fireplace and ate a big breakfast. My mom made homemade biscuits and covered them in sugared blueberries and melted butter. She called them “lazy bombs” for the way they made us lay around for hours after eating.
At night, we got dressed up fancy and went out for dinner. Somewhere home-y and warm. Preferably a buffet. With roast beef, pecan pie and the glorious creation that is mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows, brown sugar and thick pads of butter.
Despite these happy memories, Thanksgiving is a tainted holiday. Growing up, I heard stories of how the Native American people and the settlers gathered together on the very first Thanksgiving to celebrate the harvest. But even as a kid, this story seemed too good to be true. There was always a banquet table laden with a cornucopia of food. And there was always peace and fairness and harmony.
The delusion maintained by this story began to tarnish as I started university.
My first year at UBC, I was homesick. I struggled to explain to people how the US was just so different from Canada. What I didn’t say out loud was better. Better people, better food, better energy.
My homesickness sharpened into something lethal when late November loomed closer with no talk of Thanksgiving. As luck would have it, I got invited to an American-in-Canada Thanksgiving party — for homesick misfits.
The problem was that the whole event was as un-American as anything I’d ever attended. The menu? Raw vegan. The music? Meditative. A television to watch the game? Absolutely not.
I stayed for 30 minutes, ate some kale and tofurky, and then went back to my dorm. I called my mom on the bus ride home.
What struck me, in the months following that failed Thanksgiving attempt, was that so many of the people I gravitated towards were American. I could sense their energy the moment I met them. I wanted, desperately, to confide in them all what I missed about home.
It was during that time, too, that America seemed to be tearing at the seams.
Things were campaign-cycle bad. A rude and incompetent bully was rising through the ranks. As my first year ended, I struggled to reconcile this fearsome reality with how much I loved the US and craved returning home.
It was also during this first year at university that I took my first class about First Nations and Indigenous people. The story — smiling settlers and Native Americans alike—imploded.
On November 8, 2016 — in my second year of university and only 16 days before Thanksgiving — Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. The Thanksgiving that followed was solemn. I didn’t attend any parties or eat any sweet potatoes. I called my mom and we stayed quiet on the phone together.
It was then that the Dakota Access Pipeline protest reached a deafening volume. The reality of Indigenous rights stood in defiant contrast with the holiday supposedly celebrating a harmonious colonizing. Thanksgiving became sickly ironic — a celebration of genocide.
Yet still, I cherished those football-watching, turkey-eating memories.
This year, the blunt and unfortunate reality is that Trump is still president and Indigenous people the world over are still deeply oppressed. There is oil flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline, streaming through sacred Standing Rock reservation ground. My ideas of America ever being the great country that it claims to be are more and more hollow in the light.
This is okay.
I still miss the US more than anything. American Thanksgiving can’t be the same as it was before I came to Canada because the distance has allowed me to see the US in a clearer light.
For me, this November 23 will not be football games and feasting, but a reminder of the contradiction I hold tenderly inside me — while America is a fucked-up place, it’s still the place I’m most thankful for.