Here we go again—it’s Thanksgiving. Time to break out the macaroni & cheese, collard greens, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie and turkey—all the holiday foodstuff we Americans are used to. I had long forgotten the narrative of Thanksgiving Day’s origins, until my kindergartener’s take-home folder, filled with coloring sheets of pilgrims, reminded me.
My daughter was over-the-moon as she shared her newfound knowledge: “Mommy look, this is a picture of my pilgrims.”
“Oh yea, what did you learn about the pilgrims?” I asked, then cringed as she recalled the white lie: “The pilgrims and Native Americans were friends…”
I stopped her mid-sentence.
I had to set the record straight.
As gently as I could, I explained to my 5-year-old the unpopular truth of Thanksgiving history. I clarified the facts: Native people were the first dwellers on American soil and pilgrims stole their land. “What do you mean?” my daughter asked.Hiding the truth about Thanksgiving will not help my daughter in the long run. Click To Tweet
I repeated and elaborated as gently as I could: “As foreigners in a new country, the pilgrims struggled to survive the conditions. They were hungry and starving. The Natives taught them how to plant and grow food. We celebrate the pilgrims survival. However, the pilgrims were not as kind to the Native Americans. They stole Native American’s land and resources.”
On the pilgrims’ behalf, and in her own revisionist words, my child reasoned: “They gave it all back, right?”
I made it plain and pulled no shorts: “They did not give anything back—they kept it for themselves.”
Her entire demeanor changed. The face of a curious child was replaced with sadness and disillusion. My heart sank. It was not the first time. I saw this face the summer we visited Dr. King’s Memorial. When she asked if we could meet him, I had to explain that he died long ago. I was surprised, when she asked how. And though she was four years old, I felt it was important to be honest. Enter the flattened smile and puppy dog eyes.
That face expressed a loss of innocence—all my doing. I don’t believe in lying to children, and I will not diminish the struggles and sacrifices of others to gloss over hard truths. As a first-time mom, this was difficult, but I have found ways to impart facts and lessen the blow without “the face” lingering into the night.
- Start Early: Don’t wait for teachers to give your child knowledge. Discuss each holiday (in as much truth as you deem appropriate) a month prior to it being taught in school. Even sooner if you are able.
- Keep it age appropriate. Tell the truth: I did not enlighten my 5-year-old about the “Trail of Tears,” or the violent details associated with Thanksgiving history, but I did tell her about Dr. King’s death. She asked and I had to be honest. Thus, as a parent you know what your child is emotionally ready for. Use caution.
- Be clear: The Dr. King experience was my first conveyance of American history to a child. If I had it to do all over again, I would make clear that Dr. King was no longer living. She had the expectation that we would meet him, and that was due to a lack of clarity and total information.
- Be prepared: Once you’ve enlightened your child about hidden history, back up your information with a fun book or educational cartoon. Have these resources readily available to help unpack the barrage of questions that will follow.
- Circle back to joy: Don’t end the conversation on a negative note. In the case of Thanksgiving, find a Native song or make up one that celebrates enduring people. Learn about different tribes and the things that make them unique.
American history and holidays are complicated. Unfortunately, most schools refuse to teach our children about those complexities. Instead, they highlight aspects that make America most appealing. As a Black mom, I don’t have that luxury. Hiding the truth will not help my daughter in the long run. There will be many times when she will be disillusioned. Telling her the truth now empowers her to face reality. Neither will fanciful coloring sheets, depicting phony falsities about Thanksgiving Day.
Now let me go start on Christmas.