Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday, to be sure. From enormous balloons in New York City, to the annual drubbing of the Detroit Lions on TV, to the welcoming of Santa, to family feasts of epic proportions to the 500-page newspapers (485 of which are ads) prepping us for Black Friday, I can't help but be reminded of the old advertising jingle, "You've come a long way, baby!" But the question is, come from- and going to- .... where?
I would never profess to be any sort of expert in Pilgrim life or history. For the most part, my education has been cobbled together from PBS, The History Channel, historical fiction and nonfiction books, and, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving where they ate popcorn and toast. Suffice it to say, I am aware of my limitations.
But I have to imagine that way back in Pilgrim days, there probably weren't weeks upon weeks of planning for the big feast. There wouldn't have been festive decorations with holiday ribbons, faux plastic leaves and gourds. There wouldn't have been meticulous planning around the whimsical likes and dislikes of the guests -- be it for food or for people -- and the hosts wouldn't have turned themselves inside out with panic thinking the entire event "wasn't good enough."
Back in Pilgrim days, life was hard. It was uncertain. It was scary. Every single day. But I have to think if you had the luxury of worrying, it meant you had the luxury of living -- which was an accomplishment in and of itself. As much as we like to romanticize the Indians bringing corn and the sweet potatoes, the Pilgrims roasting a turkey and making a pumpkin pie, and then the whole lot of them clasping hands and sitting down together Normal Rockwell-style, I have to admit I have a really hard time believing it happened.
Although the arrival and settlement of the Pilgrims would eventually threaten the very existence of an entire nation and culture of people (which is a sad and frankly troubling thought), I still believe the essence of being a thankful individual no matter who you were was based on a shared set of common beliefs. Thankful for the beauty of nature. Thankful for the bountiful earth. Thankful for a full belly. Thankful for family. Thankful for the luxury of worrying. Thankful for the gift of living. Thankful for the hope and promise of tomorrow.
If you think about it, the scenery maybe different now, but our circumstances haven't changed all that much. Life is still hard. And uncertain. And scary. And full of worry. But we, like our ancestors, have the luxury of being alive. And if we can remember that, then this funny, overly romanticized holiday becomes less about big hats, buckle shoes, three hour parades and football, and becomes more of what it was supposed to be all along. It's easy for the gratitude to get lost among the overwhelming minutiae of the day. But even in the midst of it all, there are opportunities and reasons everywhere to find...and give...thanks.
Wishing you a full belly, a warm spirit, and infinite reasons to give thanks.
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