Reckoning With Tradition
Can we create new traditions that honor where we've been and help lead us where we need to go?
When my sons were little, our street hosted an annual Fourth of July party with a potluck, parade, and fireworks. Each year, my kids delivered handmade invitations to every house on the street. One year, a woman opened the door, her adolescent daughter peeking down the stairs. This Indigenous woman told us she did not celebrate an “Independence Day” that represented genocide and the colonization of her land, culture, and people. I stood there, a white woman with her white children, mildly stunned. Ignorance still at play, I invited her to join us, to share her perspective and educate our neighbors. She flatly replied that she educated people on the impacts of colonization for a living and suggested I share her website with our neighbors. That was the beginning of the end of my interest in celebrating the Fourth of July in the ways I had in the past.
As my boys and I set the table with my grandmother’s china this Thanksgiving, I found myself with similarly complicated feelings. Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday because of its uncommercial message of community and gratitude. Yet as I become less ignorant about the roots of our national holidays and peel back the whitewashed layers of a false American historical narrative, I’m struggling to find joy in the rituals that have shaped my life. And yet I’m also struggling to let them go. They tie me to family, community, culture, identity, and good memories. I know many others are having similar experiences.
So what to do? Do we create new traditions rooted in something more deep and universal? Do we eschew these holidays altogether and treat them like any other day? And what can we learn from Black and Indigenous folks, who seek and find joy despite the heavy ancestral and personal trauma they carry? I don’t know the answers yet. Meanwhile, my family stands at the edge of the fog of ignorance—where one path is ending but the new one has not yet revealed itself. We try to participate in the rituals while acknowledging the harm that led to them. We recognize our complicated collective and intersecting stories, the beauty in that complexity, and the transformative potential of the honest humility that can carry us toward a more interdependent future.
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