For the first time ever this year, I felt I would have the time to volunteer to help as the class parent representative in my child’s classroom. So far it has been a lot of fun and also a surprising amount of work. Because the preschool had an American class representative this year (me), Lena, the head of the preschool, asked us to organize a Thanksgiving celebration for the preschool. Christina, the other class representative from the UK, and Shannon, another American mom, and I had to figure out how to feed 34 children and their teachers a Thanksgiving lunch on a limited budget. Lena also asked me and Shannon to give a 15-minute presentation to teach 34 preschool children from around the world about our holiday.
Right before I was asked, I started to read “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown which is about the history of Native Americans in the US.
So, as I was thinking about how to teach Ada’s class about Thanksgiving, I couldn’t help but sympathise with the Native Americans in the story and think about how the arrival of colonists from Europe is a moment of sorrow and not celebration for them. I’ve only made it halfway through the book but in summary white settlers and the US Government sickened Native Americans, stole and then degraded their land by chopping down their trees, and killing their game (almost to the point of extinction). The government then tricked Native Americans into signing treaties by lying to them about their content and/or making promises the government could not keep convincing Native Americans to live on reservations- basically a small area on degraded land the white settlers did not want which made it impossible for native Americans to hunt enough game and grow enough food for their communities. For those native Americans that refused to be confined to a life of starvation on the reservation, the government used our army to murder defenseless woman and children or men who had bows and arrows and who depended on trade for guns and bullets (which were hard to come by when your trading partner was at war with you).
John at the same time was reading stories and listening to podcasts about how to teach social justice to children by talking about Thanksgiving. In any case, after doing a bit of research about Thanksgiving, I decided that I couldn’t bear to talk about this genocide to my daughter’s class of 3 to 5-year-olds. So, I decided to describe Thanksgiving as follows:
- A harvest festival through the story of how a potato is grown. We talked about different harvest festivals from around the world (and specifically the countries Ada’s friends are from.)
- We talked about the story of how Pilgrims came to a new country and were welcomed and taught how to grow native plants (like the three sisters- corn, beans and squash) by the Wampanoag tribe.
- I talked about how the Pilgrims and Wampanoag’s celebrated a successful first growing season by eating lots of the food that they grew.
- I discussed how we celebrate Thanksgiving today by eating lots of food native to the US (turkeys, cranberries, pumpkins, green beans, potatoes, etc.) and I talked about how the Wampanoag tribe is still around today.
- I also told Ada’s preschool class how my favorite part of Thanksgiving was spending time with my family and thinking about what I was grateful for. We then asked the children to discuss what they were grateful for or how they were welcomed into a new country by their friends.
Here is a link to the presentation we put together and a pic of us presenting (note Ada was a very happy co-presenter who liked to interject comments throughout the presentation):
Of course, I did decide to skim quite a bit of what I learned that I might have discussed if Ada’s class hadn’t been 3 to 5 years old. I might have mentioned how Thanksgiving wasn’t really celebrated until after the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln decided to make it a holiday to bring the country together. How the Wampanoags were decimated by diseases that the Pilgrims brought and the day before Thanksgiving, members of their tribe went to Washington DC to protest the fact the Pilgrims were stealing their land. How, the settlers didn’t have enough food for the Thanksgiving feast and unintentionally invited the native Americans who had to kill enough deer to feed their entire tribe for the three-day feast (there were a lot more Wampanoags than Pilgrims). After searching for images for my presentation, I found that the most famous painting depicting the first Thanksgiving is historically inaccurate (the Pilgrims never wore those hats with buckles in them and the Wampanoag tribe never wore feathered war bonnets) The painting of the first Thanksgiving also seems a bit patronizing to the native Americans as you can see below and was painted after the Native American’s had been mostly wiped out:
After the presentation, Ada’s class discussed what they were grateful for (Ada said she was grateful for playing with her new friends, and her best friend Kiana said she was grateful she could visit her grandparents in Iran).
They children did Thanksgiving crafts. Here is a picture of Ada with her Thanksgiving hat:
They then played outside for an hour and a half, then came inside for lunch at 1:15 (which was good since many were eager to eat any food regardless of whether it was new or not). After a few hours of work at home (thanks to John for making a wonderful mac and cheese), and a full day of work at the preschool with other parents, here is the spread we were able to put together for the children:
And the happy girl eating her Thanksgiving lunch:
Unfortunately, after all this work, we decided to not celebrate Thanksgiving at our house. When everyone treats Thanksgiving day like a normal day in the week (John was working until 8pm that evening and Ada and Maddie went to school) it makes it hard to celebrate. We considered celebrating the following weekend but Maddie had not one but two birthday parties to attend and the other American family we invited over was busy. So, instead, we invited new friends from Denmark over for a regular dinner instead the day after Thanksgiving. I have to say I did miss spending time with family and eating my mom’s delicious pumpkin pie. One thing I found out Norwegians do celebrate—Black Friday. Evidently, my least favorite consumer holiday has migrated to Europe.