Thanksgiving, a day of rest, family and feasting. It’s also a day for big parades, football games and the calm before a Black Friday retail storm.
There’s a good chance folks of a certain generation couldn’t exactly say why we celebrate this day or call it Thanksgiving. Here’s a quickie explanation:
The first thanksgiving wasn’t a holiday at all. The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Harbor in December 1620. Nearly half the 100 or so Pilgrims who made the voyage to escape British rule died during that winter.
The survivors invited a small group of Indians — whom we now refer to as Native Americans, because that’s what they are — who had helped the Pilgrims live through that harsh winter. The remaining colonists and 91 Indians sat down to a traditional harvest feast in the fall of 1621.
At that feast there was a general feeling of collaboration, cooperation and shared responsibilities. If only our politicians could be that together.
That first thanksgiving event would not be repeated until more than a half-century later, and by then Indians were no longer welcome. The first officially-designated Thanksgiving was instituted in Charlestown, Mass., in 1676, in a celebratory feast that excluded Native Americans.
Another century after that, the first one-time Thanksgiving celebration was enjoyed by non-Indians in all 13 colonies. The first national holiday was proclaimed in 1789 by George Washington, the nation’s first president. It was nailed down to the last Thursday in November by President Lincoln in 1863. The holiday won congressional approval in 1941.
That’s the condensed version of it, not as brief as we might have promised, but the meaning of the holiday obviously slipped past those original colonists, who shortly after being saved by Indians in the brutal winter of 1621, made the event exclusive to the newest arrivals from overseas.
The real meaning of Thanksgiving has clearly undergone many transformations over the years, from the original thankfulness for Native Americans helping the new Americans stay alive, to the exact opposite.
What does Thanksgiving mean to you? Probably a lot of different things. We’ve gone from a small group of colonists struggling to survive, to a massive population of diverse individuals and groups struggling to create and maintain a viable democracy.
For us, Thanksgiving is another day at the office, covering and delivering the news. But it is also a time to reflect on the need for unity. It is so encouraging when a diverse nation can come together, reconciling differences, healing wounds, sharing in our victories and commiserating in our defeats.
Today is a good time to sit back, relax and think of the many things, large and small, you could do to make life better for those around you. When we give thanks at the dinner table, we are acknowledging all the gifts we have received over the years. Not the gifts we unwrap, but the ones that tell you, deep down inside, that we’ve made such amazing progress since that first feast of thanksgiving in 1621.
But, at the same time, we need to acknowledge that we’ve not gone nearly far enough to regain the spirit that brought those two cultures together at the table centuries ago. And while considering that concept of collaboration and cooperation, we should ask ourselves why we can’t do more of that sort of thing today. What is keeping us apart, and why?
No matter how hectic it may get today, find a quiet place and think about these things for a few minutes. Giving thanks for what we have is a good start.