Sarah Hale, Reparations in the USA, and My Thanksgiving Tree

An odd thing about Thanksgiving – those arguments family members have over the dinner table and around the TV, while eating too much food and watching the football game, are actually one of the few truly authentic Thanksgiving Day traditions. Allow me to explain…

In 2014 I posted a quote from the book Thank You Sarah, written by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Matt Faulkner. It was one of many books I’d checked out of the local library and brought home as potential bedtime-story-reading-material for my child. It was just an illustrated history of the founding of Thanksgiving, but the details were both eye opening and surprising (to me, at least). The most important details were these:

  1. Thanksgiving was created with the express purpose of setting aside one day a year where families and community members could put aside their differences and share a meal, in the hopes that the community-based connection would heal the wounds of the civil war.
  2. The Thanksgiving myth that is retold every year, is actually a story that Sarah Hale used to convince people to both participate in the holiday and to behave civilly while doing so. The objective was to bring (white) people together and repair relationships after the civil war, which pitted family members against one another in battle – imagine the dinner table after your cousins come back from a war where they, literally, tried to kill one another (or where one succeeded in killing the other). The myth was basically a parable told in the context of ‘if the tribes can behave civilly when in the company of their enemies then, surely, we white folk can do better.’

Put another way, the Thanksgiving myth is blatantly racist story that uses a fictitious (or grossly exaggerated) story about a community the US government was actively committing genocide against (before, during, and after the civil war) as a form of mass emotional blackmail. When the objective is reparations, even highly specific reparations (like veterans of the civil war and their families), that isn’t the best tactic. Unfortunately, over time, the myth stuck and the emphasis on reparations was lost.

Quick aside – Here are some historic resources about the history behind Thanksgiving:

As a day to heal the wounds of a nation…

Since learning about the historically accurate reasons for our annual Thanksgiving celebration, those reasons have been quietly nagging at me. We’ve, quite literally, had an official day of reparations in our federal calendar since 1863, and somehow that purpose got lost in a collective hyper fixation on a racist myth and excessive eating.

The idea of Thanksgiving returning to its roots as a day focused on making amends, both personally and nationally, is something worth discussing. Given that focus, what should the holiday look like? What should communities, families and individuals do to celebrate?

I don’t have an answer, I just wish the questions were being asked and answered, sincerely and thoughtfully, throughout the month of November.

My Thanksgiving Tree

What does all of this have to do with my Thanksgiving tree?

Since the holiday is not used for its intended purposes, I decided to play with those themes in my Thanksgiving Tree. Sadly, I am only marginally successful. Honestly, I look at the current in-progress collection of ornaments and I worry that it comes across as a cringy left-leaning white-culture holiday tree.

By way of explanation, here is my list of topics for the ornaments (in no particular order): a) strong women, b) peace, peace symbols, c) the planet, environmentalism, d) family, community, e) nostalgia (things from my childhood that I associate with Thanksgiving, like Snoopy, woodland creatures, etc.), and f) reparations that should be addressed during this holiday.

Obviously, this is less a form of activism and more akin to a vision board in the form of a Christmas Tree.

It’s a way to contemplate the topic and maybe even begin conversations.

It’s something small and tangible I have started doing in recognition of what should be happening during this holiday.

It’s something. Not enough, but something.

Also addressed on Quora in (7) Adora Myers’s answer to What would be the best form of reparations for the descendants of slaves besides money? – Quora

Halloween Apartment Ambiance – TV Pumpkins

I just discovered the Halloween version of those holiday yule log videos!

Cozy Cottage is one of many YouTube channels that offer Halloween themed ambiance videos. As you can see from the photo above, this does a great job of turning my living room centerpiece (the TV) into an effective Halloween background ambiance machine – lightly spooky music included.

For something with general background music (mostly elevator style Jazz and the ambiance instrumentals generally played at local coffee shops) then check out Coffee Shop Ambiance, which has a long list of coffee shop inspired backgrounds for every season of the year, including a Halloween themed shop filled with jack-o-lanterns (above).

Over at Martia’s Muses, there’s a lovely ‘green witches’ house‘ (See above). I’m not sure why it’s called a ‘witches’ house. It’s just an old-fashioned kitchen filled with pumpkins, apples, and other cooking supplies – not even jack-o-lanterns. This image is accompanied by outdoor rain (or is it a fireplace?) and forest sounds mixed with a little music. Once again, the channel has a long list of seasons and scenery to choose from.

For just a fireplace with a crackling fire (no music or outdoor noise) then go to Rainy (above) or Escape Ambience.

Side note: I love this fireplace image. However, I grew up with a fireplace that my family used very regularly, so I have to be careful to refrain from thinking about what I’m looking at. Anyone experienced with fire will immediately note that everything about this image just screams FLAMMABLE and fire OUTSIDE the fireplace and DANGER! In the real world, I would never allow this to happen. Yet, it’s very pretty and cozy and seasonal and not real; so, I will use it until the thinking part of my brain can stand it no longer.

After looking through all of those channels, YouTube starts generating suggestions for similar channels with the same service – background music/sounds with holiday and seasonal scenery. I honestly did not know there were so many! It makes sense that this niche exists, it’s just not something I ever went looking for on YouTube before.

Personally, I tend to you the regular streaming services, like Netflix, for a yule log video during the holidays. If you’d rather use Netflix, then I recommend the Witcher fireplace. It’s not specifically designed for Halloween, but it works.

Holiday Season Tree – Halloween

Last year I decided to try decorating the Christmas tree for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Years. It may sound odd, but it works extremely well. Here are a few arguments for pulling out the tree on October 1st and changing up the decorations on the day after each holiday.

  1. Artificial trees are expensive. Even the cheap ones are $100+. I’ve seen some listings for close to $1000 and I’m sure there are more expensive options out there. If I’m going to spend the same amount of money (or more) that I spent on my new couch for a holiday decoration, then it only makes sense to find ways to use it more often. Why let it collect dust in storage for 11 out of every 12 months?
  2. Options for decorating an apartment. As an apartment dweller, the amount of space I have to decorate during the holidays is minimal. All apartments have rules and limitations on what can/not be done to their walls and in the area just outside your front door. In addition to that, general space in an apartment tends to be limited. Finding a spot for the tree is a challenge, but it’s less of a challenge than trying to find places for statues, Knick knacks, wall hangings, etc. Most people have a spot where the Christmas tree is set up every year, so taking that space and putting that same tree in that designated spot is reasonably easy. Plus, there’s always under the tree! In the photos below, you’ll see how things that can’t be placed on the tree, can be placed under it, and the whole thing works visually while remaining contained in a manageably small(ish) area.
  3. Storage: Ornaments are small and tree lights and other decorations don’t take up much space. That, combined with the tree that is already taking up storage space, is a lot easier to coordinate than a misc. collection of holiday specific decorations.
  4. Themes: Ornaments are available in every possible style and theme. It’s easy to find characters from movies, old cartoons, TV shows, legends and myths – practically anything you can think of has been turned into an ornament by someone, somewhere. I’ve started keeping track of the things that I address/represent during each distinct holiday. Since the theme changes each month, beginning October 1st and ending the first week of January, that provides plenty of room for growing a meaningful (to me) collection of ornaments based on each holiday’s theme. As time goes on, I have the ability to change those themes by changing a few ornaments – while keeping the space taken up in my storage area to a minimum.

For an example, here is this year’s Halloween tree. It’s heavily focused on Halloween themed shows that I like, costumes, trick or treating, dragons, and transformations. Last year I covered the entire thing in little plastic monarch butterflies, but they were a bit transparent, and the colors weren’t bright enough, so they just blended into the tree. Now I have a few brightly colored ornaments that represent butterflies, moths, and bees, which works.

In the future, I intend to add homage to the Salem witch trials and witch burnings in general.

I really like the way ancestors are honored during the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, but I have not figured out how to transform that general concept into my heritage and traditions. Someday I will, most likely, start adding ornaments that honor people on my genealogical family tree.

Vacation Has Ended


This gallery contains 6 photos.

I have just returned home from a vacation on Leech Lake in the Chippewa National Forest. I spent a wonderful week living in a cabin, lounging on the beach, reading  books, hiking in the woods and kayaking. At this very … Continue reading

Seattle, Washington, USA (Photos)


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When people talk about visiting or living in Seattle, Washington, one of the first things discussed is the rain. There’s a reason for this – it rains a lot in Seattle. Or, rather, it drizzles. Even so, my experience of … Continue reading

Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico, USA (Photos)


This gallery contains 4 photos.

I flew into Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1999 and visited the Santa Fe National Forest. As you can see from the photos, I was immediately enamored of the way the sun creates such clear and defined shadows. This was … Continue reading

Bellevue State Park, Delaware, USA (Photo)


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These photos were taken between October of 2007 and April of 2009. I was living in Delaware while working contracts in Philadelphia, New Jersey and surrounding areas. This is a common living arrangement because the trains provide a straight (and … Continue reading

Alligator River Wildlife Refuge, NC, USA (Photo)


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In 2007 I decided to take the long way across North Carolina because I wanted to get a good look at the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is a 152,000-acre  wilderness that starts at the Ocean’s edge and continues for … Continue reading

In The City, Vienna, Austria (Photo)


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During grad school I took advantage of the opportunity to spend a summer studying German in Vienna. On the day I left for Europe I knew exactly zero words in German. I had spent all of my high school and … Continue reading

Gardens, Philadelphia, PA, USA (photos)


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I took a wide variety of photographs during 2006 and most were located in the maze of neighborhoods that makes up the city of Philadelphia. These are two of my favorites. The rose was a single bold and brilliantly beautiful … Continue reading