Costumes, Pageants and Thanksgiving

This is an updated version of a post made last November.

One extremely unfortunate Thanksgiving tradition in the United States is the re-enactment of the ‘Thanksgiving Story.’ This invariably involves someone (usually children) dressing up as an ‘Indian’ who arrives with food to help the pilgrims who are on the brink of starvation.

A few basic facts that must be considered before putting on the traditional pageant:

  1. ‘Indian’ is considered by many people to be a racial slur. It can create a negative experience for the Native American children in the classroom. While there is debate over correct terminology, this issue must be carefully considered, particularly given it’s combination with point 2.
  2. Non-native people dressing up in a native costume (complete with face paint) is exactly the same as performing in black-face. Don’t. Do. It.
  3. The Thanksgiving Myth is not only (at best) an historic oversimplification, the reason the holiday exists has more to do with the Civil War (Revolutionary war, etc.) and the need for unification of people in any possible form. It also has a strong feminist connection – even though it would not have been called feminism at that time.
  4. During a holiday that is intended to bring people together, any and all performances and activities that divide people and cultures are best avoided.

Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage month. This is the perfect time to invite artistsspeakers and performers to your school, church or civic organization. This is particularly effective for those who are attempting to change a long-held-tradition of less-than-politically-correct Thanksgiving performances.

If you are a school teacher, consider using the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Thanksgiving Mourning classroom resources. This is also an excellent time to take a good hard look at Engaging Native American Students and the representation of Native Americans in the classroom year-round.

 Wars, Unification and Veterans

In addition to the very direct connection between Thanksgiving and times of war, Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11. Creating activities and pageants that focus on 1) the historic and current connection between veterans 2) the need to come together as a community and 3) the fact that expressing thanks for everything we have can make for a powerful and very appropriate Thanksgiving holiday event.

Many students have family members who are members of the military or veterans. Consider incorporating family members into the development and performance or the pageant, or contact a veterans organization to inquire about possibilities for collaboration.

This short (and very incomplete) list of veterans associations focuses on organizations serving communities underrepresented in mainstream organizations (and society at large), as well as those communities that are not often commonly associated with the US Military. For specific information about military and veterans associations in your area, contact the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

  • American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER)
  • American Women Veterans (AWV)
  • Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
  • Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA)
  • Jewish War Veterans Association of the United States (JWV)
  • National Association for Black Veterans (NABVETS)
  • Native American Veterans Association (NAVA)
  • Muslim American Veterans Association (MAVA)
  • Pagan Military Association
  • Society of Hispanic-American Veterans

Costume and Pageant Alternatives

Thanksgiving Holiday is a time to come together, express gratitude for everything we have, show respect for others and take steps toward healing rifts between communities. If a school, performance troupe or organization focuses on creating and event that explores the ideas of community and gratitude, the overall pageant will naturally develop and transform away from the best-forgotten Thanksgiving myth.

Gratitude Parade

One very easy place to begin, particularly for those who are trying to pull something together at the last minute, is the . The idea is simply this: all participants dress up as something he or she is grateful for and then join together to put on a costume-parade that visually represents community-wide gratitude.

Imagine the photo opportunities for the school/organization website and newsletter, not to mention the local newspaper!

Obviously, there are some rules that must be followed. Putting on a black-face costume is not an appropriate way to express gratitude for the black community. However, this presents ripe opportunity to discuss not only gratitude but the expression of gratitude and how those actions affect both individual relationships and the community as a whole – take advantage of that opportunity!

Gratitude Parade Costumes

Here are a few examples of some things that might be included in a Gratitude Parade:

Favorite Character (Doc McStuffins) or Story

Family Pets or Favorite Story (Clifford)

Doctors or Emergency Responders

Parks and Park Service

Bear (Wildlife) or Teddy Bear (Favorite Stuffy)

Fishing! (Official Costumes)

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