A Very CVT Thanksgiving

November 26, 2009

So – after all the whining and what-not – I’ve actually been teaching a primary school (7 and 8 year-olds) English class the last couple weeks. A lot of fun, and the kids are ridiculously cute. Haven’t ever formally taught little kids (middle school was as young as I had gone as a "real" teacher) before this, but I think I’ve been doing okay.

Anyway, last Friday (my class is only once a week, on Fridays) I was asked (by my boss) to do a Thanksgiving-themed class. It’s a really popular trend here in China for schools that teach English to try to take on all sorts of holidays from English-speaking countries (mostly from the States, from what I’ve seen so far),* and my boss had heard about Thanksgiving and wanted me to tell the kids about it. She’s my boss, so I didn’t have much of a choice.

So I agreed.

My class started innocuously enough, as we went over "Please" and "Thank You," which I then parleyed into a conversation about "Giving Thanks," which then, of course, led to me mentioning that Thanksgiving was coming up. The kids got a five-minute break to "prepare their minds for listening" and then I told them the story of "the First Thanksgiving."

Of course, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I wasn’t going to just tell any old "First Thanksgiving" story**. Oh, no. I chose to tell the children about "the First Thanksgiving" with a CVT slant to it (no pun intended).

If you grew up in the States, you know the "traditional" story: Pilgrims want religious freedom, so they hop on the Mayflower and go to the States. At Plymouth Rock (or thereabouts) they start a colony. In good weather, they’re fantastic, doing really well. Then winter hits and they start to starve. Luckily, a "good Indian" happens by and decides to help them out, and then they all eat well and settle down to a big happy meal together. "And thankful are we."

My version wasn’t really that much different. These are a bunch of Chinese kids learning English, it’s not like I could get too detailed (and I’m teaching them new words as I go, through props and drawings and things). But I was still able to teach tell them this:***

Back in the day, there was a group of people living in England called "the Pilgrims." Life was hard for these Pilgrims, so they decided to ask the king for help. What do you think he said? (at this point, all the kids yell "YES!!" and I say, "NO!!!"). The King of England wasn’t very helpful at all. In fact, he was quite mean and very set in his ways (including his ways of thinking of the world). He didn’t want to help people different from himself.

So the Pilgrims decided, ‘we have to get out of here!!!’ They hopped on a ship and sailed it all the way across the ocean to the Americas.

When they first landed, they were very excited. It seemed like there was a lot of food and building materials. They were quite happy. But then Winter came.

The Pilgrims were really cold. They also didn’t know what they were doing, and they had not planned well for living in a different country. So all the crops they had planted died. Their animals died. There was no food, and they were on the verge of starving to death. They needed help.

And so they asked the natives (sadly, I had to teach them the word "Indians" here; please forgive me) for help. What do you think they said? (the kids look at me tentatively . . . "YESSS!!!") Luckily, the Indians were very helpful. They were willing to help these new, different people. So they taught them how to plant corn and do other things to be able to take care of themselves a little bit. Because of this HUGE amount of help, the Pilgrims didn’t all die, and because of that, we celebrate Thanksgiving, to honor the Indians for their generous ways and willingness to help people different from themselves.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t explain the epilogue (repaying this vast kindness with genocide, etc.) in the limited English I could use for the story. Anyway, little kids deserve a happy ending and some innocence for a few more years, right?

The most fun of all this was when I had the kids act out the story afterwards. So I had the mean, intolerant king who only yelled "NO!!!" without actually listening to anybody. And then, when the Pilgrims asked the "Indians" (again, I’m so sorry) for help, they had to get down on one knee and beg. Call me petty, but it still felt right.

So what is the CVT thankful for as he sits down to his Chinese-Thanksgiving dinner (no turkey here) on this very special day? I am thankful for the freedom to tell the CVT version of things with no fear of government crack-down. I am thankful for the very many opportunities all my various forms of privilege have provided me in the world. I am thankful for all the experiences I have had (good and bad), and how they have led to where I am, right now. And I am thankful for every bit of food, every bit of warmth, every bit of love, and every bit of health that I have had the luck to carry with me, because I am very aware that most of the rest of the world has very little of one or all of those things I just listed.****

Thank you for reading.

Wherever you are and wherever you come from – have a happy Thanksgiving.

*At some point, I should really talk about the little-kid "Halloween Party" I attended, because it was something else.

** Just take a second to do a Google image search on "first Thanksgiving" and look at some of the paintings – First Nations peoples sitting on the ground with the dogs, reaching up for a serving from the Pilgrims; images with no Native folks in sight; Native dudes sitting at "the kids’ table" . . .

*** The words aren’t exactly the same, but the point is.

**** Whatever the origins of this holiday, I always have to respect a day that asks you to look outside of yourself and appreciate what you’ve got.



  1. of potential interest “Portland, America’s ultimate White City”

  2. I did my homework and googled “first thanksgiving”. (Do I get a scratch and sniff sticker for that? :p)I came up with this: http://www.pilgrimhall.org/hpbrowns.htm and http://www.joyfulheart.com/thanksgiving/pilgrim_artwork.htm

    Wow. I had no idea that it’s depicted like this. Native Americans on the ground at a lower level or in the background…Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to be feeding the pilgrims??? If anything, shouldn’t the pilgrims look more at their mercy? Images do speak a thousand words huh.

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