It may be harder than usual to get into the holiday mindset this year, after a month of watching governors grandstand about their desire to turn away Syrian refugees while Black Lives Matter protesters are being shot by homegrown terrorists. And in a year when a national dialogue exemplified by the phrase “check your privilege” has exhorted all of us to consider what we have to be thankful for, Thanksgiving may feel redundant, or even a little tone-deaf.
That’s why a new app called “Thanksgiving for Syria,” from computer programmer Paul Katcher, is so timely. The idea is simple: The app asks how many guests you’ll be feeding and what you’ll be serving them (turkey or ham? Will it be organic?), calculates roughly how much your meal will cost, and then offers up a list of well-regarded charities for Syrians to which you could donate the same amount, or half of it if you prefer. (The charities on the list were aggregated by Public Radio International earlier this year.) It’s a tidy way to convert what you have to be thankful for into what you have to give—and to channel conflicted feelings about the symbolism of celebration into a minor act of altruism.
Katcher told PRI that his family always donated half the cost of their Thanksgiving meal to charity when he was growing up. “I know so many other people that would do this if it was just easy enough for them,” he said. “I got some experience as a developer here in the Silicon Valley, so it was no big deal just to put the site together once I had the idea.”
Here are a few other ways to turn your Thanksgiving feast toward a broader purpose this year:
• You could serve one of the international stews from the new book Soup for Syria, a “humanitarian cookbook” assembled by celebrity chefs including Yotam Ottolenghi, Mark Bittman, and Alice Waters. Proceeds go to fund food relief through the United Nation's UNHCR.
• You could join the Black Lives Matter protests planned for the day after Thanksgiving; as they did last year, activists are hoping to make “Black Friday” into “Black Lives Matter Friday”—to urge Americans to put their energy into halting police violence rather than shopping.
• You could give to organizations that combat police brutality, such as the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have teamed up on creating an app to record and report civil rights violations by law enforcement.
• Speaking of protest: The group the United American Indians of New England will hold its annual “Day of Mourning” on Thursday in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “There's nothing wrong with having a meal with friends and family,” Mahtowin Munro, a co-leader of the organization, told the Huffington Post. “The real underlying issue is the mythology; there's a view that we're this big melting pot country, or there's a view that the Natives and the Pilgrims lived happily ever after and the Native people just evaporated into the woods or something to make way for the Pilgrims and all of the other aspects of the European invasion.”
• The National Museum of the American Indian has educational materials on the real story of the first Thanksgiving. As Dennis Zotigh, a cultural specialist at the museum and a Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian, wrote in an essay called “Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?”: “The Thanksgiving myth has done so much damage and harm to the cultural self-esteem of generations of Indian people, including myself, by perpetuating negative and harmful images to both young Indian and non-Indian minds. … Do I celebrate Thanksgiving? No, I don’t celebrate. But I do take advantage of the holiday and get together with family and friends to share a large meal without once thinking of the Thanksgiving in 1621.”
At the very least, as SNL illustrated this week, you can make a small contribution to peace on earth by refusing to talk politics with xenophobic relatives and/or by playing Adele’s “Hello” on repeat until the last of the pumpkin pie crumbs are gone.