The two sides of the Thanksgiving coin… what are they and what do they mean?
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As I presented at a Thanksgiving presentation and discussion this past Sunday, I viewed this Thanksgiving as extra special because the lessening of the COVID pandemic allows more live get-togethers. I called it COVID Relief Thanksgiving. Yet, because of the mortality and morbidity of COVID, there will also be sadness. Although it is usually considered a happy and inclusive holiday in the media, Thanksgiving is much more complex than that.
The gratefulness we are supposed to feel on Thanksgiving Day is often laced with anxiety over the quality of the food, the family dynamics, missing members, and political divisiveness. To address that, I devised an acronym that can also be applied to other holidays that bring family and friends together. It is called CHEERFUL, which stands for:
C = Caring
H = with Humility
E = Engage
E = with Empathy
R = and Respect
F = Forgiveness
U = leads to Unity
L = and Loving
Many already told me they are using it, including a man who was grieving the recent death of his wife:
“Trying to be cheerful, as you suggested in your talk.”
In addition, the day after Thanksgiving, when many are also off from a formal workday, is also full of complexity and contradictions. This Friday is known as Black Friday, when people pursue sales of merchandise, a celebration of capitalism for those who have enough money and opportunity. But that Friday was federally designated as Native American Heritage Day in 2008. However, many Indigenous designate it as a National Day of Mourning because Thanksgiving has historically been associated with the decimation and displacement of Native Americans.
As I discussed on Sunday, one example goes back to 1863-1864. In October of 1863, while still in the midst of the Civil War and all the anxiety about it, President Lincoln made Thanksgiving an annual national holiday. Yet, no thanks to the Indian Removal act of 1830, the Navajo Long Walk began in early 1864, where thousands were marched over 400 miles from their homelands in desirable Arizona territory to New Mexico. Much morbidity and mortality occurred along the way.
These associations left me coming up with a different acronym for today, the other side of the Thanksgiving coin. It is TEARFUL, which stands for:
T = Trauma
E = Endangers
A = All
R = Remembering
F = Fear
U = and Unbearable
L = Losses
Given the continuing divisiveness and xenophobia in the United States, our challenge is to provide equity and understanding across our cultures, including the social disparities in psychiatric care. Thanking Native Americans for using their land—as is done at many events—that was taken away from them will not cut it. At most, it may be heard as value postering without real corrective action. Profits from their gambling casinos help, but only getting back some of the better lands, appreciation of their cultural values, and reduction of their higher prevalence of mental disorders, will provide a Thanksgiving of adequate thankfulness.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.