Yet despite those deep roots, Unitarian Universalists aren’t feeling so sure nowadays about America’s national day of turkey and stuffing.
On the agenda at this year’s national General Assembly for this liberal, inclusive faith: “Thanksgiving Day Reconsidered.”
“Thanksgiving is a holiday that many families celebrate without awareness of the pain that causes our First Nation neighbors we live among. In Massachusetts, Thanksgiving Day is marked in the Wampanoag community. It’s focused on the genocide that occurred. It’s a day of mourning,” said Laura Wagner, one of the proponents of the rethink-Thanksgiving resolution that Unitarian Universalists voted for in June at their meeting in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s not about boycotting Thanksgiving, but raising that awareness to stop the perpetuation of the story, the myth that’s told around Thanksgiving, that the colonists were welcomed and they celebrated this lovely meal together.”
The resolution didn’t ask anyone to give up their turkey dinner. Instead, it calls for a national education program for all Unitarian Universalist churches and camps about the real history of early America, particularly about Native Americans.
“Do I think it’s going to end Thanksgiving dinners that families celebrate? No. But having this conversation — where do you go from there? That could be a wonderful opportunity for a family who’s aware of this call to action,” said Wagner, who is the executive director of a Unitarian Universalist social justice organization in Massachusetts, UU Mass Action.
Wagner suggested that churches might make activism alongside their local Native American communities a part of their Thanksgiving season. Perhaps they could jointly stand up for environmental protection efforts to preserve Native American lands, she said.
Mary Lu Love, president of the district of the Unitarian Universalist Association that proposed the resolution, suggested that congregations research where the land for their own churches came from. That, she said, is “part of the history that’s never told.”
Love’s district, the Ballou-Channing District, includes Plymouth Rock.
“The idea of the proposal is that the UUA prepare materials to support congregations to present the Thanksgiving Day story in a way that’s more respectful of the indigenous people — and also respect the fact that the Pilgrims are some of the people we recognize as predecessors of the UU,” Love said.
Wagner and Love said that they have been working directly with Native American organizations in crafting the resolution.
*The establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was just one of Hale’s accomplishments. Other achievements on this remarkable lady’s resume: writing the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” editing the massively popular magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book for 40 years, promoting women’s education and supporting Vassar College in its early years, fundraising for the Bunker Hill Monument and the restoration of Mount Vernon, writing an early commercially successful anti-slavery novel. Hale started writing to support herself and her five children after her husband died in 1822. She wore black to mourn him for the rest of her life, another 57 years.