As Thanksgiving appears, it’s hard not to avoid its feathered festivity. Yet, this holiday offers a disturbing paradox for bird lovers: smiling turkey on the decorations, not-so-smiling turkey on the platter.
Over the past few decades, scholars and social activists have deconstructed Thanksgiving layer by layer. As a result, we’ve thrown out sentimental and biased images of “Pilgrims and Indians,” critically addressed the doctrine of discovery, and begun to pursue decolonization. Yet, these necessary steps leave out other-than-humans.
What does it mean to choose a specific species to represent a human celebrated holiday? Especially one that not all people can eat. Doesn’t this nullify the concept of inclusivity that early stories of Thanksgiving—however flawed and untrue they were—tried to uphold?
Many Jewish people do not eat turkey because of their religious convictions. Neither do Jains or Sikhs. A lot of Buddhists and followers of the philosophy of yoga are out, too, based on the practice of ahimsa. Likewise, many Rastafarians and Seventh-day Adventists don’t eat animals. Ethical vegans and vegetarians don’t either. Furthermore, sneaky additives in commercially raised turkeys can create allergic reactions for people sensitive to dairy, soy, wheat, and corn.
Reflection: Is it time to deconstruct our holiday dinner plates to promote inclusivity and gratitude in the broadest sense? Would I be willing to adopt universal meals guidelines so that the largest number of people can share the same meal? (Check out pcrm.org/universalmeals for details.)
HONORING THE PARTRIDGE IN THAT PEAR TREE
Whether you identify as Christian or not, you’ll likely hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas” soon. Decoding the species present in this seasonal carol is a highly contested and curious endeavor.
So is determining the official lyrics, which vary widely but always contain an animal or two, seemingly based on the writer’s geographical location: hares, badgers, lambs, bulls, bears, and even hounds make an appearance. But overall, upon a close inspection of the over two dozen popular versions, one thing is for sure. The most common gifts are decidedly feather-forward: partridge, turtle-dove, French hen, colly bird, goose, and swan. Yet, most of us would balk—or bawk?—at accepting these birds as a gift. Where would we put them?
Who has room for six geese and seven swans, let alone that partridge and her tree? Sure, I love birds, but they belong outside, thank you very much, we might berate the gift-giver. Yet, there is a profound idea on the flip side of this snarky diatribe—if we consider what we might gift to birds.
Reflection: How can I help the feathered near me? Am I willing to research the best feeders and food for their health? Could I purchase a roost box to help them stay warm? Get a heated bird bath so that they have access to clean water?
FLEDGING THE NEW YEAR
For some birds, the dark side of New Year’s Eve surpasses mere human hangovers and credit card regret.Sadly, each year as celebratory fireworks emblazon night skies around the world, birds suffer. Our feathered friends can have severe responses to extreme noises, colliding dangerously into buildings, aircraft, or each other, leading to injury and death. And then there’s the problem of plumy formal wear … well, enough said there.
Reflection: As I compose my New Year’s resolutions, can I include actions that reduce suffering for the winged ones?
NURTURING PEACE ON EARTH
Reconciliation of needs and wants in a multispecies world is endlessly complex. Yet, in every language, we find a word for a shared vision: peace, םולש, paz, ཞི་བད, minaggen. Perhaps if we listen closely enough, we may hear the same universal aspiration in a chirp, cluck, gobble, or peep.