American in Paris Reflects on Today’s Meaning of Thanksgiving

American in Paris Reflects on Today’s Meaning of Thanksgiving

meaning of Thanksgiving
First Thanksgiving, 1621 by artist Jean Louis Gerome Ferris. © WIkimedia Commons

“They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they kept but one–they promised to take our land…and they took it.”

– Chief Red Cloud

Last November, before I cooked the traditional Thanksgiving turkey and as I pulled out its gizzards, I thought, this is just like what we do to the land. Even as we take, we expect that there will always be more. We imagine more Thanksgivings, more turkeys, sustenance, fuel, and then more. I thought how in that very moment at Standing Rock in North Dakota, on Native American territory, protesters had set up camp to block the construction of a pipeline that has since leaked into the drinking water of 20 million people.

Dakota Access pipeline being installed between farmlands in North Dakota. © Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons


I thought of Aesop’s” The Goose With The Golden Eggs”. And I remembered the story something like this:

A poor farmer and his wife find a goose that magically lays golden eggs. After several days, the farmer decides to slit the goose’s stomach in order to get all the eggs at once. The farmer’s wife, after seeing what her husband has done, decides that she is married to an idiot, and runs away hoping to one day meet someone more clever than he. The farmer dies heart-broken and famished.

Did Aesop imagine a last squawk and frantic flapping of wings? Did he hear the cracking of the goose’s neck like so many ice caps breaking off the Arctic coast? Did he feel earthquakes rumbling in the bowels of the world and watch sea levels rising like the spilling of blood onto our shores?

I’ve always been confused about how the very day after the Thursday that is always Thanksgiving, we are immediately distracted from its purpose and meaning with the macabre event we call “Black Friday”.

Black Friday shopping discounts immediately after Thanksgiving day. © Dmitriy Shironosov/123RF

Did the inventors of this bizarre tradition think we would forever be satisfied knowing that on Black Friday we get the opportunity to buy designer shoes at a discount price? On Black Friday, people rush to shops which become black with a frenzy of buying. In fact, last year, they featured shoes designed by the President’s daughter herself—stiletto shoes, forced down our throats, “Made in China”. Is this what it means to “make America great again”?

We wander about asking ourselves, “Do they still have wind and sun and clean drinking water in places like the Dakotas?” You have to do a lot of digging to find out.

“Oh Great Spirit
Let me learn the lessons
You have hidden in every leaf and rock.”

– Chief Yellow Lark

They say that alchemists used to know how to forge gold. And, in a way, every cook forges gold when they prepare something delicious, bringing people together, just for the sake of it. Ultimately, on Thanksgiving, we give thanks for what binds us. And I’ve always loved the way that so many people of all different religions and ethnicities “get” what Thanksgiving is about.

When I was younger, my Italian grandmother used to make capon with her very special mushroom risotto. In other families, it was somewhat the same, but also somewhat different. I remember the assembly room at school covered with dry and canned goods that we children had brought in to give to the poor. I remember the magnificently-colored leaves of autumn in Central Park. And there was also the Thanksgiving Day Parade with the promise it brought of winter, with more feasting and snow. And years later, living in Paris, improvising this feast, last year’s Clairette de Die “biodynamique” potluck, on Saturday, whatever…

But, I have to say that while we had a vague idea of the general history, we had no idea, back in the days of my grandmother’s kitchen, that today the story of the indigenous people of America is known to be the biggest genocide in history.

Perhaps alchemists used to produce gold, but in our society today, the business class has become very good at producing waste. They swoop down upon us like satanic messengers bearing the seeds of genetically modified crops, the deadly serum of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, hormones, poison drinking water and toxic air. Even bees are having trouble finding the way home amidst all this wreckage.

“Some day the earth will weep. She will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice, if you help her or let her die, and when she dies, you too will die.”

– John Hollow Horn

Though the style of these words is very different from Aesop, we should be capable of hearing its message.

And, as the people at Standing Rock will tell you, it’s not enough to speak words of wisdom. The alchemy is all in the handling. Nothing works if we’re not respectful of it. Who can dispute that the earth and its animals and people are one? Only those foolish enough to imagine that we can survive eating money.

Thanksgiving is a celebration that they gave us. It’s about the celebration of thanks and of giving. That’s what it was on that first Thanksgiving when the pilgrims celebrated with the Wampanoag people in 1621 at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.

“You must give to the river the kindness you would give to any brother.”

– Chief Seattle

The goose is gone, but as I look forward to this year’s Thanksgiving, I hope that perhaps the river can be saved…

Lucia Coppola is an ESL teacher who is originally from New York and has lived in France since 1985. She has a B.A from Swarthmore College in Medieval Studies and a professional background in dance, choreaography, body techniques, writing and teaching. Over the years of living in France, she has enjoyed seeing the world from both sides of the Atlantic. Her work is largely informed by nature, and she derives inspiration from where she currently lives near the forest in the outskirts of Paris.



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