Thanksgiving and ‘Giving Thanks’

Count me among the many Americans who know the basics of Thanksgiving (or at least enough to keep from looking like a turkey to my 10-year-old son): the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Mass. Squanto and the local Wampanoag tribe. Native Americans and European settlers coming together for a happy harvest celebration that would forever be known as the nation’s first Thanksgiving.

That said, when you live in a town like B-town and work at a university filled with so many knowledgeable, insightful people, you get to know a whole lot more about occurrences you take for granted — like the annual Thanksgiving tradition, the topic of a fascinating conversation that aired Nov. 20 on WFHB radio.

Jason Jackson

As part of WFHB’s “Interchange” program, three IU Bloomington professors — Brian Gilley, associate professor of anthropology; Jason Jackson, associate professor of folklore and American studies; and Christina Snyder, assistant professor of American studies and history — took to the airwaves to talk about Thanksgiving’s connection with Native American cultures, which the nation is celebrating this month as part of Native American Heritage Month. Drawing upon their research on native peoples in the U.S., the three faculty members placed tomorrow’s national holiday in its proper historical, cultural and global context. They described how several of Thanksgiving’s themes, including the idea of the holiday as harvest festival, are widespread across the Indian country they’ve canvassed and researched.

“The idea of ‘giving thanks’ (as opposed to the ‘holiday of Thanksgiving’) is a hugely important theme in every native community that I know, and it takes many forms,” Jackson explained to WFHB host Louis Malone.

In native communities, Jackson said, the holiday is often tied to “another set of activities which relate to, in essence, ‘asking.’ In many native communities, part of the year is spent doing the right things that are expected of people and conveying a kind of petition to … the creator, seeking things like health for one’s family and food for one’s community. Then, when those things which are needed in life and that are important to people’s lives are bestowed, the flip side of that comes around and it’s time to give thanks.”

Listen online to more of Jackson’s and his colleagues’ perspectives on Thanksgiving, and a hearty appreciation to all who’ve visited this blog over the last several months. Thanks for reading!

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