I Had A Family Talk On The History And Tradition Of Thanksgiving, Here’s What Was Said

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Family Thanksgiving

Courtesy of Ida Harris

Once again, I’m very thankful to have both my son Ahsan and my brother Louis spend some time to have another conversation with me. Our first conversation was wrapped around Juneteenth awareness and tradition. Now, Thanksgiving Day is upon us, and I think it’s important to have a conversation around thankfulness and what the holiday means for Black folks. I appreciate their participation. Our schedules are conflicting, but just like Thanksgiving is about bringing family together, we were able to do the same for this discussion, right?

Ahsan: That’s right. Happy to hear. Thanks for having me.

Ida: I’m just going to jump right in. I am really curious, from you both, what have you been taught about Thanksgiving Day?

LouisWhen I was younger, I was taught there was a big feast with the pilgrims and the Indians and that they pretty much got along, and [Indians] were welcoming to the pilgrims. This was taught in school textbooks. [There were images] that showed camaraderie between Pilgrims and Indians.

AhsanI was taught that the pilgrims and the natives had a harvest after the first year the colonizers came to the new land. I learned that they feasted, and were thankful for the harvest and difficult year that was endured. [Thanksgiving] was presented as coming together between the natives and colonizers.


Ida: Thank you, Ahsan. I was pretty much taught the same things. Ahsan, you use some language that I want to revisit. You reference Native Americans and did not misidentify that demographic as Indian. I find it interesting at how in the textbooks and in the classroom when we were coming up or people of my generation were coming up, Native Americans were referred to as Indians. And now. That has changed. You also mentioned colonizers. SoI’m curious who, specifically, are the colonizers you’re talking about?

Ahsan: The English, I believe. Yes, the British.

Ida: So, do you think about Indigenous people and Native Americans on Thanksgiving Day?

AhsanYes, I do. Yes, absolutely.

Ida: What do you think?

AhsanWell, I think about them all the time about how they were displaced from their land. Thanksgiving is just more of an intensified thought of that and what they have to endure.


Ida: Okay. Louis, do you think about Indigenous people and Native Americans on Thanksgiving?

LouisNot until recently, maybe like two or three years ago. I found [Ahsan’s use] of Native Americans and colonizers was great.  He’s a lot younger than me, and that’s something that came up in our last conversation—having access in the information age. I was taught Pilgrims and Indians, but Native Americans and colonizers seems more fitting.

I don’t think about [Natives], I guess I am being absent-minded. I don’t say Thanksgiving, though. I do call it Indigenous People Day. I’m on that now.


Ida: Right.

Louis: I haven’t thought about that. I’m guilty of that.


Ida: I‘m curious, have you ever thought about how we as as a Black family celebrate or Black people in general, either one of you jump in.

LouisYeah, I used to love Thanksgiving days because it was a time to be with family and just relax. You got the four days off, you go out, you go out to the club, you go shopping and it’s just relaxing. It’s really relaxing. I don’t want to not celebrate it because I don’t think the history was told right.

It is a time my family and my friends have the time off. We all have the same days off during the holiday. And we might have to make the best of it. We’re not celebrating the history. We celebrate each other.


Ida: OK— it was really difficult for us to get together just to have this phone call. So you really make a great point there, Louis. Ahsan, have you ever thought about why we as a Black family or Black community celebrate Thanksgiving Day?

AhsanI always just thought we celebrated because it was passed down to our lineage of just the holiday spirits and things like that.


Ida: So, when you say our lineage, do you mean our American lineage?

AhsanYes, we were taught to do things like that.


Ida: What do you look forward to on Thanksgiving Day?

Ahsan: Like my uncle said, I look forward to just just taking a step back and having time to do nothing and to be around people I love and that love me as well.


Ida: OK. What is the most memorable moment during a Thanksgiving gathering that we’ve had as a family?

Louis: I got to say the most memorable moments are when our grandfather was present and being ahead of the table carving turkey. That right there. Also, my Uncle Willie, who was a father to me. He worked a lot, and I just remember being able to watch some football games. Just sitting down with him, being able to watch some of the games that came on during that time. Those are my most memorable times.


Ida: Man, you took it back. You really took it back. Our grandfather passed away about seven years ago at age 94. And when I tell you my grandfather was the head of the table for every holiday, but specifically Thanksgiving. And he was such a great cook.

LouisAnd the prayer, too. You remember that?

Ida: Yes, I do.


Ida: Then being with Uncle Willie, like you said, who is also my father figure and who raised me, he worked all the time, and he worked the second shift, which was the middle of the day, so we had really just these slivers of time with him, maybe on the weekends. I can definitely say I wasn’t into sports, but I definitely got into baseball, basketball, and football. Spending that time, and even just being in the living room and hearing the game on television on Thanksgiving Day, and waiting to eat. What about you Ahsan? What’s a memorable moment for you on Thanksgiving?

AhsanMy memorable moment is when Uncle Louis got his house in Jonesboro [a suburb of Atlanta], and we were outside frying turkeys. It was kind of cold, but we were making it happen.


Ida: Man. That was a new innovation for us, frying turkeys outside. Growing up in New York where it’s really cold, and we didn’t have the environment to do so, and frying a bird just wasn’t a thing to do back then. What is your favorite dish for Thanksgiving?

AhsanMine would have to be either the macaroni and cheese or yams.

LouisI have to go with the collard greens. Definitely the collard greens.

Ida: I think mine is definitely the collard greens. I’ve grown so fond of the fried turkey we’ve been having, so definitely and that fried turkey.


Ida: Louis, what are you most thankful for during this time of Thanksgiving?

LouisDifferent times. I’m thankful for different things. So, this year, I’m definitely thankful for my family. You bought a house this year, and so I followed you and bought one this year. And just remembering how rough times were, sharing beds; we were able to purchase homes in the same city. I’m thankful for that. I find myself at any given moment thanking God for the blessings and us being close because we haven’t been close all the time. So, definitely thankful for my family, especially my immediate ones.

Ida: Absolutely. Louis, I love you.

LouisI love you, too.


Ida: Ahsan, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving season?

AhsanI’m thankful for having a life, and being alive and waking up and also being able to see you every day.


Ida: Y’all got my eyes all juicy right now. I want to follow up with what you both said. I feel incredibly blessed for life and to be living life with both of you, no matter how difficult it is to have difficult conversations and be in difficult situations. I love to have that challenge to work through any hardship or adversity just so that I can love on y’all even more. Life isn’t always easy and breezy. I’m thankful for what’s not easy because it always brings us to the other side. And on the other side of some rough shit is the good shit. And so, I’m so thankful to have that and have both of you as blessings in my life.


Ida: How do you think we as a family and Black families in general have redefined Thanksgiving?

AhsanI think Black people redefine it and turn it into a positive thing and a Black cultural experience with food and family.

Louis: I think not being so traditional, not holding to the tradition that was passed down, being able to evolve from the tradition. Like, I don’t always stay at home for Thanksgiving. Sometimes, I use that time to travel and to get away. Sometimes, I use that time to go camping because that’s the perfect time to go camping. I’m not holding too much to the tradition. It could be looked at as a bad thing, because maybe I’m not passing on the same experience I had, but we’re finding out the truth. It’s hard to hold on to that. I want to separate myself from what the colonizers have done by being rebellious in a way. But I don’t want to erase that family moment. The family time is important always, but I’m just redefining it on my own terms.


Ida: I get a sense of that. We do Thanksgiving a lot differently, even sometimes down to the food because it’s not always a turkey anymore.


Ida: Yeah, two Thanksgivings ago, Ahsan made oxtail, and I think we might have had a duck. Last Christmas, we got food from your house and food from my best friend’s house. I also made something small at home; lasagna. We plan to do a seafood Thanksgiving this year. Expanding the menu–we define it that way and we certainly want to keep the sense of family in it. So, what might you do differently this Thanksgiving?


LouisWell, this Thanksgiving I’m traveling. I may go to Orlando, Daytona and hit the beach; visit some close friends and hang out with my stepdaughters.

Ahsan: I don’t plan on doing anything different. I’m going to keep up with the traditions.

Ida: Same here. I’ll be keeping up with the tradition. I’ll be hitting up some homes and coming home to eat the food I collect. Thank you so much for sitting in this conversation. I think it’s a wonderful conversation to have amongst us and to also share with other Blacks, and I hope it inspires them to have conversation about what Thanksgiving is and some awareness of the history.


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