Citizens Report American Irish Culture

Holidays and The Thanksgiving Play, with Danahey on the Loose


Memorial Day, Carpenter Park, 2024
Memorial Day ceremony, 2024


Holidays are pretty damn weird.

Let’s start with the most recent one, Memorial Day.

Sure, there were plenty of events held to honor soldiers who died in battle. I attended one myself.

Then I went shopping at Kohl’s, lured into the store by emailed coupons, promises of discounts and the chance to obtain Kohl’s Cash to put toward future purchases.

It seems you need a degree in mathematics to understand how Kohl’s discounts work. A microscope to read the fine print on coupons comes in handy, too.

That’s to say, it’s confusing keeping track of what you can and can’t buy at reduced prices.

Shopping and ceremonies aside, it rained a good portion of the holiday weekend. That delayed the start of the Indy 500, which didn’t end until sunset. They didn’t even bother finishing the 600-mile NASCAR race in Charlotte. After 249 of 400 laps and a 2-hour rain delay they called it a night – and almost another day. It was after 11:30 p.m. there,

What fast cars have to do with paying tribute to fallen soldiers, I am not sure.

Next up on the holiday list here in the US of A is Independence Day. Invariably, some idiot will set his garage on fire or lose a limb lighting fireworks they bought at a roadside stand somewhere where smoking is still considered cool.

George Washington invented the cherry bomb, correct? He shot them off every July 4 into July 5 until the neighbors called the cops on him, right?

He sang drinking songs while doing so. Wait. The melody for the Star Spangled Banner probably was based on a drinking song. That makes Francis Scott Key his generation’s Weird Al.

Backing up a bit on the holidays, Cinco de Mayo notes Mexico’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla back in 1863. In the US, the ads make May 5 an excuse to drink tequila, Corona and Dos Equis and to eat tacos and burritos.

By the way, at a new gringo-owned place by me, burritos are $18. Beans and rice are extra.

This St. Patrick’s Day in March had young strangers passing out on the front stoops of suburban homes. Police told a friend of mine it’s become a tradition for them to get such budding alcoholics home. What better way to honor Ireland, eh?

I skipped past Easter, which somehow involves bunnies dyed eggs, candy, the Resurrection, ham and lamb shaped butter and cakes. There are two Easters. This year they were five weeks apart.

Of course, Christmas involves the birth of Christ, Santa, shopping, fabulous decorating and wearing silly sweaters on purpose. The latter has become such a tiresome tradition even Walmart sells silly sweaters.


Cast shot, The Thanksgiving Play
White folk versions of the holiday get skewered in The Thanksgiving Play at the Steppenwolf. Photo by Michael Brosilow.


Which brings us to Thanksgiving. The food and football feast officially opens the Christmas shopping season. Or at least it used to do so, in the time before Amazon.

The holiday happens to be the subject of the aptly titled The Thanksgiving Play, which closes at the Steppenwolf Sunday, June 2.

Playwright Larissa FastHorse skewers what NPR calls “performative progressives” in her work. It’s a screwball comedy that crosses Tina Fey wit and one-liners with Quentin Tarantino level violence.

The story involves Logan, a smarmy, uber-liberal drama teacher who is using grant money to put together a piece about Thanksgiving and for Native American Heritage Month.

She’s dating Jaxston. He’s one of those ponytailed manchildren who seem charming to some and smarmy to the rest of us. In short, he says whatever he needs to say to not have to pay for anything and to get laid. When push comes to shove, it’s all about him and his being able to keep living the moocher lifestyle.

Caden, a milquetoast elementary school history teacher, has reams of material ready for Logan to use for the production. He so wants to be Ken Burns and possibly David Mamet all rolled into one.

Then there’s Alicia, an actress hired because Logan thought she would provide insight into what it’s like to be an Indian/indigenous person/Native American/descendant of the First Nations. Only thing is, she’s not. She just looks the part. It’s a Marilyn Monroe-like role.

So a bunch of white folks try to put together a play that will meet the gobbledygook language requirements of the grant, please parents, the school board and school officials and be something school children can enjoy. Or not.

Hilarity and splatter worthy of Jackson Pollock ensue.

McArthur Genius Grant recipient FastHorse, a part of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, has said the play grew out of her own experiences in the arts, in dealing with white people’s attitudes toward the people who were here first and the complicated mess that is Thanksgiving.

Personally, FastHorse said she’s enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday, particularly the beigeness of what typifies that usual American dinner spread.

What her play hammers home, though, are the conflicting, frequently awful tales behind the holiday.


The Thanksgiving Play, a holiday mess
Things get a bit stage bloody in The Thanksgiving Play at Steppenwolf. Photo by Michael Brosilow.


No Boomers. Snoopy and Woodstock weren’t doing a happy dance with Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people to celebrate the bountiful harvest. Ugh. I just looked up a clip. Snoopy feeds Woodstock turkey. How cannibal, like Hannibal Lecter!!!

Anyway, the native people most likely weren’t even invited to the bash back in 1621. They showed up when they heard a racket. Knowing how bad the food would probably be, they brought along some deer. Most likely nobody had a Butterball in the Dutch oven.

Tisquantum, known to Disney fans as Squanto, spoke English and did help the Pilgrims. Maybe he felt sorry for them.

The Pilgrims had been living in Holland, but couldn’t make a go of it there. An uptight people, the Pilgrims probably didn’t approve of all the readily available cannabis in Amsterdam. Or not.

Without GPS, they wound in what’s now Massachusetts, not Virginia as intended. They had no clue how to grow vegetables or farm and missed going to the Aldi in the Netherlands. Or something like that.

How descendants of those who sailed on the Mayflower became known as the first hoity-toity WASP blueblood Americans is a marvel of myth-making marketing. Talk about influencers!

Maybe the Pilgrims employed the same PR firm that came up with the crap about Columbus discovering America when he never even set foot on the continent. To this day, people who are lumped together as Indians can thank that agency for still being called Indians.

Anyway, lucky for the ill-prepared Pilgrims, Squanto lived nearby. He spoke English. He learned it on a trip overseas that involved him being enslaved for a time. Yep. Enslaving people was very trendy back in the day.

Another thing. Pilgrims weren’t the first Europeans to land where they did or didn’t land. It seems others from across the pond had already brought diseases with them. That wiped out lots and lots of people whose families had lived along the East Coast for eons.

Plus, let’s not forget what the Spanish and others were up to in what’s now Florida, along the West Coast and elsewhere in what was a New World for them to conquer.

The people already on this continent didn’t always get along either. Still, the new arrivals took things to Shakespearean levels of gore, deceit, treachery and evil.

It wasn’t like an HGTV show. The indigenous people didn’t take the Europeans house hunting and find them affordable fixer-uppers.

As for Thanksgiving, pretty much throughout the course of human history every culture has held some sort of harvest festival. People give thanks, then fatten up before the weather turns cold.

The roots of what’s now Canada’s Thanksgiving holiday predate the American version. Those roots are pretty knotty, too.

Besides, in Canada and the USA, Thanksgiving didn’t become a national holiday until the 1800s.

Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a recurring national holiday here during the Civil War. No mention was made of a Pilgrim party with the Wampanoag.

Then there’s what happened in 1637, a thanksgiving celebration that marked a massacre where people living in a Pequot village were burned alive.

Yeah, thinking about Thanksgiving can give you a headache, if not a stomach ache.

Which is not to say I won’t be eating too much come Nov. 28. No matter how weird or disturbing the stories behind a good many holidays are, I enjoy food. I might even like getting together with friends and family for a meal. At least if they can cook.

There’s nothing wrong with giving thanks. But you can’t whitewash the past, either.

Macy’s even changed the outfit for the Tom Turkey float for their Thanksgiving holiday parade. The really big bird now dons a Broadway-style top hat, not a Pilgrim lid.

Parade organizers consulted FastHorse. She brought that and a couple other ideas to the table. Make that, to the parade route. As FastHorse noted in an interview, none of the changes traumatized any children.

Besides, traumatizing children is Santa’s job. Duh.

Anyway, happy whatever holiday. Pass the side dish of history.


Thanksgiving Play debunks holiday
The Thanksgiving Play debunks holiday hokum. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

2 Responses to Holidays and The Thanksgiving Play, with Danahey on the Loose

  1. I wish the dates for this play would be extended past 06/02/2024. Thanks for the entertaining and educational column, Mike.

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