During these trying times, I am reminded that this is the season of giving thanks. I will admit that in the past the meaning of Thanksgiving was usually lost under the anticipation and management of a turkey. Nope, not a favorite uncle – a real turkey. And, of course, the dressing and all the other sides. The true meaning was lost somewhere in the planning, buying groceries, setting the table, and baking the pies. (I won’t even mention Black Friday.)
History of Thanksgiving
The core value of the holiday stems from the giving and teaching between the native peoples, the Wampanoag, and the colonists at Plymouth. When the colonists finally left the ship after a cruel and bitter winter, only half of the original people survived. They were greeted by English-speaking Squanto, a native of the Pawtucket tribe. Squanto had been captured and taken to England where he learned English then later escaped to come back to his native home. He taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, catch fish and survive. He cemented the alliance between the local Wampanoag people and the colonists.
The celebration of the autumn harvest, the first Thanksgiving, was in 1621. It was a grand feast that lasted three days. The great chief of the Wampanoag, Massasoit, attended with 90 of his men and brought five deer to share. That first Thanksgiving was a feast of friendship, despite drastic differences, as well as a celebration of survival. The alliance between the new colonists and native peoples lasted more than 50 years.
Thanksgiving becomes a national holiday
While states continued the tradition of Thanksgiving, it wasn’t until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday to be celebrated every year in November. He declared it a day of Thanksgiving in the midst of the Civil War, when the nation was divided and at war with itself.
Remembering the first Thanksgiving
It would seem in this time – with the nation still politically divided, rising inflation, gas prices over the moon, and simple groceries out of the reach for many – it would behoove us to remember that first Thanksgiving. Then, it was the coming together of diverse people with different beliefs and lives. It was the community of people sharing the bounty of the fall harvest and giving thanks. Giving thanks for one another, for food, shelter and survival.
More than half of the Plymouth group died that first winter. I am sure they were hoping to survive what again could be a harsh and cruel winter. In a sense, we have done the same: Hoping to survive what has been a harsh and cruel winter and summer… holding out for hope.
We have survived nearly two years where we watched the daily COVID death toll climb, businesses being shut down, lockdowns, evictions, the economy in shambles, our nation being torn apart, and, at least for me, an undercurrent of fear.
Thanksgiving, a day of giving thanks, reminds us of all we have, despite what we don’t have, despite our differences. It is a day of hope for family, friends and our nation to be united.
Last year our family met on Thanksgiving outside with masks and social distance. My 97-year-old dad was in his scooter making jokes. This year my dad is dying, and we may be celebrating around his hospital bed, thankful that he has been with us another year. No turkey, though. This year is bratwurst, beans and pumpkin pie – his favorite. It is a day to be grateful.
I will be grateful, filled with thanks for life, family and friends. Not just on this one special day, but every day.
Happy Thanksgiving to you.