All Americans are taught about the first Thanksgiving—English puritan settlers thankful for surviving are joined by the friendly Indians who’d help them to share a celebratory feast.
While the story has been mythologized and there are different claimants for the first American Thanksgiving—and the Canadians have origin stories of their own—the idea of the shared feast of thankfulness is a lovely metaphor for community and diversity.
But Thanksgiving is also part of the ancient and near universal custom of the harvest festival. As Wikipedia says:
“Harvest festivals typically feature feasting, both family and public, with foods that are drawn from crops that come to maturity around the time of the festival. Ample food and freedom from the necessity to work in the fields are two central features of harvest festivals.”
Yep, that’s an American Thanksgiving. The aim is to eat ourselves into a stupor and then nap, watch football, or wonder how many pieces of pumpkin pie are left. <G> (That's a corn dolly above. I have a much longer one hanging on the door of my office as a souvenir of years in England.)
In olden days, thankfulness for a good harvest was much more visceral, since if the food supply wasn’t good, it would be hard getting through the winter. The old, the young, the weak might die.
No wonder celebrating the food supply had a strongly religious character! In the Church of England, there are Harvest Sunday services that fall near the Harvest Moon, with produce brought into the churches and often distributed to the needy later.
In the US, Thanksgiving is more secular, though there’s a gently spiritual quality to the holiday. By coincidence, as I was writing this blog, I found that my friend Hannah Lee had just posted a relevant piece on her blog, A Cultural Mix talking about the ways she and her family have celebrated and given back for Thanksgiving.
I like Thanksgiving because it’s not about presents. It’s about food and friends and family, all things I enjoy. And the ancient roots of a community joining in celebration are still present as we reach out to invite friends and perhaps even relative strangers to join us in sharing the feast.
Here are a few of the things I’m thankful for:
1) The abundant food of the feast, and that I live in a time and place where a bad harvest won't mean a winter of death. I’m also grateful for the warm, relaxed celebration in my home. Holidays can be stressful, even agonizing, so our relaxed get togethers, where we all contribute food and there are no obsessively high standards or football games, is a delight.
2) Autumn—I like the changing seasons, and Maryland does four distinct seasons beautifully, from the bleak midwinter through glorious spring, voluptuous summer, and the poignant, colorful beauty of autumn. (I grew up in Upstate New York, where the seasons tend to be winter and July, so I don’t take four seasons for granted. <G>)
3) The love of reading—booklovers are lucky people because we can enter into other worlds, and escape into them when necessary. We also have minds well-furnished with trivia. As an author, of course I think that’s a good thing!
4) Companion animals—pets enrich our lives. Cats are my first choice, but dogs, birds, gerbils, and other critters can bring great joy. I’m even willing to accept that those who love reptiles find them very rewarding. <g> (That's my Elusive Lacey on the right.)
4) Brief moments of connection with strangers—the smiles and laughter that occur when two people almost run into each other at the grocery store, or you drop something and a stranger picks it up and returns it, or you and the cashier share a joke and a smile that are fleeting but true for that moment.
5) Flowers—because they’re pretty, of course! I love the cascading colors on my deck in the summer, or any time. (That's a corner of my deck in high summer.)
6) The amazing fact that I can make a living as a storyteller. Is that lucky or WHAT?!!
I could go on, but that’s enough about me. What things are you thankful for? Large or small, obvious or unexpected. For at least one day a year, it’s good to remember our blessings, and be grateful for them.