Reflections on a Thankful-filled Thanksgiving

It isn’t that I’ve found thankfulness to be elusive. On the contrary. This year, I have come to the realization that there are quite a few things for which I am thankful. Maybe this comes from maturity, because I surely didn’t consciously feel thankful for these things earlier in life. When asked to give examples of the things for which I’m thankful though, I’m embarrassed. The trouble is that these things strike me as inherently shallow. They speak to my privilege, and that makes me feel ashamed. So there’s a vicious cycle. I’m thankful and then ashamed to be. Eventually, I’ll probably put it behind me and go back to being blissfully oblivious. Here’s hoping.

One of the other troubles with listing things you’ve got to be grateful for is that just because you have that thing, it doesn’t mean that the person to whom you’re talking has those things in common with you. On the other hand, it has been my experience that even though that person doesn’t have what you have, they probably have something you don’t.

These days, Thanksgiving bears little resemblance to its antecedents in early American culture. In the 1620s when the Pilgrims descended from their ships to this shore, they brought some of their traditions with them. One of these was the feasts of thanksgiving. Notice the plural and the small t? These meals were much more frequent than once a year. They could occur monthly and it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility to have them weekly for a short time. These gatherings could be religious, or they could be used to celebrate a cessation of drought or even a military victory. They most likely bear little resemblance to the Thanksgiving that we in the U.S. celebrate on the fourth Thursday of November every year. The frequency of these feasts is one of the reasons that Canada celebrates their Thanksgiving as the second Thursday in October.

Another reason our holidays aren’t at the same time is that in the U.S. we have our ‘First Thanksgiving’ story. For as nice and heartwarming as it sounds, there still isn’t a consensus on when the first feast actually happened…if indeed it happened at all. The first feast could have been any time between 1621 and 1623. We have to keep in mind that the Pilgrims were used to regular feasts of thanksgiving to acknowledge their good fortune. Plus, the November date seems a little late for a harvest festival. Most foods are already out of the fields by that time. I think Canada’s date seems more accurate.

But I still prefer the myth of the ‘First Thanksgiving’. Even if it didn’t really happen that way, it still can teach a good lesson. We’ve all heard it. The Pilgrims were starving (this part is probably accurate) and the Native Americans came and shared their harvest bounty with their starving immigrant neighbors. It’s a great story of indigenous peoples helping out refugee settlers from another country. I think it’s the outpouring of support and welcome that causes this story to linger in our nation’s lexicon. We all want to feel that we’re good people and that we would do the same. Teaching our children compassion is the first step on the road to goodness. And the ‘First Thanksgiving’ story, no matter whether it’s true or not, is a vehicle that we can easily point to and use to teach that.

Posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2016