Ask the Trope Fairy: Trauma and Truth in Thanksgiving Pageants
Ask the Trope Fairy is an advice column for characters navigating science fiction and fantasy realms.
Dear Trope Fairy,
Conditional on you being real, I would appreciate some advice on helping my sweet angels process some holiday-related trauma. What happened this summer at what I had thought was a safe place! (I learned Camp Chippewa’s reputation from impeccable sources! They came highly recommended by good families and mothers I trust!)
But yet! There my precious, innocent darlings were subjected to some truly unsavory characters. There should be screening in camp admissions, I said it! And this is not about race because these students were white (some heathen religion but still white).
Well, these little heathens completely destroyed the Thanksgiving Pageant at the end of camp. My precious daughter had worked for weeks and weeks on it! The play was meant to teach the history of our brave Pilgrims. I confess that I had my qualms early on about that content. Would this be more woke garbage to make my children hate themselves?
I half-expected some posturing about how not every epilogue to the First Thanksgiving Story was, well, equally happy, but the camp directors surprised me! While their screening system clearly leaves much to be desired, they assured me repeatedly that they understood that children are children and don’t need to be exposed to unpatriotic takes on our history.
But that’s where the heathens came in.
These ungrateful children claimed to be possessed with the spirits of the Native Americans, and that little heathen girl gave a speech saying that she had come back in time to warn their ancestors of the “evil” white settlers intentions. This girl made an unnecessarily graphic and impolite speech about "genocide" then incited a riot! There was fire! With children tied to the stake! In the middle of the fire!
Luckily my precious innocent darlings are home, and I was beginning to think we were past this vulgar and unnecessary display. They agreed to pledge to the flag in class again just last week!
But now, with the holiday approaching, I’ve seen a huge backslide. My son is darkly muttering, “happy happy Turkey day” from one of the few numbers that went to plan before the massacre, and my daughter is shrieking at pumpkins, turkeys, and pilgrim hats.
I understand that the damage of these horrible children has already been done, but what can I do to help my babies through this time?
Cleaning Up The Occult Mess
Dear Cleaning Up History,
I don’t usually do additional research on the letters, which forces me to take the letter writers at their words. However, when you included the camp’s name, I realized that I know exactly the incident you are talking about. I thought about passing your letter along to another fairy, but, frankly, few of them understand your dimension half so well as me.
Your dimension seems a sad place to most of us fairies — for more reasons than you would guess. We don’t get much call for our help, because the pockets of magic that have survived the various purges in your history tend to cluster around strong, supportive family units that solve their own problems (admittedly not always within their neighbors’ comfort levels).
You seem to have a lot of protective energy, like those same families and particularly the specific family whose daughter and son inspired this rant. (Yes, I know that there were two boys involved, despite the focus of your vitriol falling on the one girl.) Normally, I would discuss tolerance for a magical minority with you in abstract, but you seem to be a person who is eager for a righteous cause to fight, and there is one sitting right there in front of you. It’s just not the one you think it is.
It is very frustrating to see you look straight past the obvious problem to focus on the “heathen children” who brought the problem into the light.
Let me start with your son’s distressed muttering of “Happy happy Turkey Day” this November. With the inside knowledge I happen to have of Camp Chippewa’s practices, I feel confident suggesting an alternative explanation. Would you feel differently about your son’s trauma response if you knew that he is not muttering because of a charismatic goth child but because the adult male camp director repeatedly struck campers for messing up the dance moves in that musical number? If you knew that they were made to practice in the heat, being berated and beaten for mistakes and afforded few water breaks? If you ask around other campers, you will find corroborating reports from many many families (probably many of the same ones who recommended the camp to you).
The fact that your son did not feel safe coming to tell you about this abuse that he and others suffered is something to meditate on long and hard.
The most important measure of good parent is your children knowing that they can trust that you will believe and champion them. It rates far above raising patriotic and even well-adjusted children, since so much of their mental health is beyond a parent’s direct control.
Your son is clearly suffering trauma inflicted by a trusted adult. The fact that he has not brought it to your attention is cause for deep introspection on YOUR part. This work may be painful, but it is necessary.
It will not be a pleasant time. But it is an important one. Do not turn away from it because it makes you uncomfortable. It is too important for your son to know that you will believe and support him.
The process will be good practice for the more nuanced and complex introspection you need to perform with your children around the story of Thanksgiving — both the mythology surrounding the event that the original play depicted and the version of the play performed at the camp.
In your America, it will never be a comfortable task to look back on race relations. But the days of neither you nor your children noticing the casual oppressive of indigenous people are over. I suspect you did not even notice that Camp Chippewa is named for a Native American tribe that has no association with or benefit from the camp, as if that culture is a costume or gimmick for non-Native children.
As much as it may pain you, the slaughter of indigenous people is a true part of the legacy of the First Thanksgiving. It is very likely that if the Chippewa’s descendants had the ability to go back in time and warn their ancestors about the first European settlers, they would leap at the chance to do so. But I can’t help but notice: the message the young “heathen girl” sent was very much about where indigenous people are today, in the modern world.
It is not a historical tragedy that you were forced to face that day. It was an ongoing genocide. How could your children possible “let that go” with just a few months’ time?
If you want to help your children, you must untangle which of the “horrors” you want your children to forget because they are traumatizing (being tied up while surrounded by fire is genuinely terrifying) which ones you want them to forget because of your own guilt (why you didn’t rush the stage to rescue them from the flames must be weighing on your heart somewhere)…and then which horrors you want them to forget because they are true.
Would it help your son and daughter process the event if you spoke to them about indigenous rights? If you helped them embrace real advocacy for a group so often spit upon? Probably.
If that feels beyond you, then you need to at least adjust your bar for measuring their recovery. Your current goal seems to be less about helping your children unpack their trauma and more about returning them to full-blown patriotism that pretends that European settlers never committed atrocities.
Help them with their fear of being beaten for a petty man’s artistic vision, help them understand that they are safe now and are spectacularly unlikely to be attacked by a powerful young child again. But don’t use “go back to pretending history didn’t happen” as your standard for “normal.”
Your children had a transformative experience. The past months have proven that it will not simply be erased from their minds and hearts with time. Let it transform them into more informed, compassionate people who are willing to stand up for themselves when they see injustice and abuse — against themselves and others — in less dramatic and violent ways than the pageant they witnessed. You have enough passion to be a fierce advocate teaching them those skills.
But only if you stop channeling your energy against a young child who made you uncomfortable by telling the truth about the First Thanksgiving.
— — —
Transcribed and annotated by Katy Mulvaney with permission from the League of Fairy Surrogates and the Interdimensional Meta — Fantasy Council. The Trope Fairy can be reached even in low-magic dimensions by addressing your letter to the North Pole attention MRS. Claus. Letters address to St. Nick with a request to pass along to the Trope Fairy will eventually be forwarded as well, but he gets much more mail, and she is a good friend who sometimes responds herself to help with turnaround time.