Tom Hanks at the Governor’s Ball after the telecast of the 61st Annual Academy Awards in 1989. (Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons)

Commentary: Celebrating Hanksgiving

Instead of a cornucopia centrepiece filled with autumn foods and flora, we use the Wilson volleyball

Sarah Frey

As the holiday season approaches, your average #woke settler must once again consider the internal struggle between colonial celebrations and the yumminess of pumpkin pie.

While Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t as rough as the collar-tugging colonialism of Victoria Day (which has aptly been re-appropriated by beer-chugging bro culture as May 2-4), the reality is that harvest celebrations were an integral part of Indigenous cultures across Canada, until some protestant clergy settlers did what we do best, and appropriated the celebration into a day of prayer in 1777.

But never fear to you dear reader and ally, for the answer may just be as simple as dropping a consonant. Maybe this year instead of Thanksgiving, we gather around with friends and family on Oct. 8 and celebrate Hanksgiving: The celebration of Tom Hanks’ cinematic career.

Hear me out. Hanksgiving really is a perfect fit. Instead of a cornucopia centrepiece filled with autumn foods and flora, we use the Wilson Volleyball from Tom Hanks’ 2000 film, Cast Away. We can still keep the pumpkin pie or butter tarts for dessert, but we can add passing around a box of chocolates from the Academy Award Winning 1994 Tom Hanks film Forrest Gump.

Really, the man who brought to life SNL’s David S. Pumpkins was meant to be a staple of the fall season. And of course in this new holiday tradition, families can argue around the table whether they’ll gather around the television to watch Big, Apollo 13, or maybe, A League of Their Own.

And #wokeallys I get it, sharing posts on Facebook is a really easy way to show your one Indigenous friend how much you care, but unfortunately challenging the systemic impacts of colonialism will mean accepting some change in your life. Especially if that change really doesn’t impact your daily life whatsoever.

Like your favourite sports team’s racially inappropriate mascot, or that one statue in that one park that’s not even in your city, or the abstract holiday whose origins you learned at the beginning of this article, the uncomfortable fact is, we have to acknowledge that a significant part of normalized society we occupy is due to a bloody history, and an insidious ongoing colonial presence.

The great thing about culture is that it’s malleable. What was relevant to one generation may not be so to the next. If an aspect of that culture is socially irresponsible, and if we want to call ourselves the welcoming, inclusive, and polite Canadians the world seems to think we are, then we need to think critically about the culture we’re holding onto.

For example, in some North American communities, the embracing of gatherings and community dinners in celebration of Labour Day is becoming more and more culturally relevant in reaction to our political climate’s war on living wages and healthy unions. On the other hand, culturally irrelevant holidays like the Gaelic Lughnasadh (an Aug. 1 feast day where one could enter a temporary or trial marriage for just a year), has gone by the wayside.

We have the opportunity to approach cultural traditions with intention. When an aspect of our culture is symbolic of a history of continued systemic oppression over a group of people, we are actively choosing to participate in that system all for the comfort of tradition.

We’re allowing comfort to prevent us from removing harm from our society. We’re comfortable with statues of colonizers in our parks, we’re comfortable with the unjust past of Canadian history being omitted from our textbooks, and we’re comfortable with the luxury our privilege affords us as settlers by “staying out of politics”.

Take the opportunity to lean into what is uncomfortable about settler colonial society, what continues to cause harm to oppressed groups, but continues to happen because it’s comfortable. These cultural shifts may be “uncomfortable”, but consider how “comfortable” it is to live in a society where the people responsible for the genocide of your ancestors are culture washed into heroes, and immortalized in bronze on land that was stolen from you.

What is something that exists in the background of settler colonial vision, is front and centre and a reminder of injustice to the First Peoples of our community.

We can change this, and we’ll barely even notice the difference.

So this holiday weekend, while I’m willingly putting myself into a turkey-educed coma, I’ll be proud to do so in honour of a man so wholesome and wonderful, that his response to the #MeToo movement was “…It’s never too late to learn new behaviours. And that’s a responsibility of anybody who wants to obey a code of professional ethics.” Because when we get down to it, Tom Hanks is a far more positive cultural icon than an uncomfortable tradition’s appropriative history we annually turn a shoulder to.

And seriously, the only thing I can think of that white people might just love more than pumpkin spice lattes, is Tom Hanks.

Sarah Frey is a writer, and activist currently living in Whitehorse, Yukon. Sarah’s work often focuses on gender issues within Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and she is an active volunteer in her community.

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