We should ditch Friendsgiving

By Karenna Umscheid

It’s become common to acknowledge that the history of several American holidays is rooted in colonialism. An example includes the refusal of many to recognize Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day or,  more conventionally, the celebration of ‘Friendsgiving’ over Thanksgiving. 

It’s easy to use the excuse of family and tradition as a reason to ignore Thanksgiving’s haunting history. Friendsgiving celebrations have become a popular alternative, despite the fact that they are the run-of-the-mill colonial family Thanksgiving in a different font. Friendsgiving is exactly what it sounds like—a collection of friends joined to cook and enjoy Thanksgiving food, count their blessings, and be in each other’s presence. For many, celebrating with a chosen family during the holiday season is uplifting and positive, but regardless of its upsides, Friendsgiving is still a celebration of Thanksgiving. 

Actively choosing to celebrate any form of Thanksgiving continues to benefit colonialist structures and disrespect the Indigenous people on the land upon which we feast. To refuse to truly acknowledge one’s complicity in settler-colonialism and to take no action against it is to continue this harmful tradition. 

Haaland v. Brackeen recently reached the Supreme Court, where the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act was challenged. This case is one of many in which Indigenous tribal sovereignty is threatened by American societal structures. Issues like these don’t receive nearly as much attention as the excitement of the holiday that perpetuates this violence in the first place, and reshaping it into “Friendsgiving” doesn’t change that. 

Non-Indigenous Americans have taken to reshaping Thanksgiving in ways they believe are different from the classic holiday. But Friendsgiving is entirely the same thing as traditional Thanksgiving—it is consuming the same food on stolen land at the same time and for the same reason as Thanksgiving. 

It is not our place to repurpose a holiday that was not centered around our experience to begin with, and it is not your place to decide what is acceptable to Indigenous communities. 

Family obligations are a common denominator to continue celebrating Thanksgiving when living at home. But being at college means gaining the freedom not to adhere to every tradition laid out by your family. College students are not necessarily stuck in a location where they have no choice but to celebrate Friendsgiving. Friendsgiving is an active choice; it is choosing to purchase, cook, and prepare Thanksgiving food, accompany it with decorations, and pretend it is somehow more moral than traditional Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving as it is commonly understood is built on a lie pushed by the American education system that refuses to acknowledge the crimes inflicted by the early European settlers of this country and prolonged by the U.S. government. By continuing to celebrate this holiday, we perpetuate this myth and continue to harm Indigenous communities. 

Resisting nostalgia may be uncomfortable, but decolonization is not supposed to be easy. We must refute the myths and decolonize our thinking, and in order to do so, it is vital to reevaluate the history we celebrate, and why. 

We must be honest with ourselves when looking at the new-and-improved version of Thanksgiving. Are we celebrating Friendsgiving because it makes us feel like better people to not participate in the traditional holiday? Do we know the holiday is bad but justify our celebration because the food is just that good? Do we trick ourselves into believing the holiday cannot be harmful if all we are doing is celebrating our family and friends? 

Is there no other weekend we can eat dinner with our friends? Is the desire to celebrate this stronger than the desire to actively work against colonialism? Are we properly acknowledging the history of the holiday? Is it enough to just say that the history is bad, but do nothing to work against it? 

Complacency makes us just as guilty as the perpetrator. Even if we claim the moral high ground for celebrating with an awareness of history, continuing to actively participate makes our knowledge worthless, as it is an act of  refusal to put it into practice. 

We must refute the way colonialism is embedded so deeply in our lives by actively choosing to work against it, and there are many ways to do so. 

We can stop celebrating Friendsgiving. Have dinner on a different weekend and tell your friends you’re thankful for them all the time. We can start unlearning the lies the American education system has taught us, donate to Indigenous organizations, and decolonize our mindset. We should continue to learn from Indigenous climate organizations and movements such as Landback, Seeding Sovereignty, and Climate Justice Alliance, and take action in active fights Indigenous communities are leading. 

If we truly want to make amends with Indigenous communities and address the ongoing history of detriment and horrific mistreatment, we must refuse to participate in holidays that celebrate this history.