Thanksgiving 2012 is here. And I'd like to wish an abundant, happy celebration filled with love and laughter. Although 2012 has been fill of surprises, some good, some not so much, I have much to be thankful for today and everyday. And it seems like a good moment to reflect on the holiday - how it began and what it means today.
In these early years of the 21st century, it’s difficult to imagine the hardships and harsh conditions faced by the Pilgrims. We all may have our share of problems but none of us face the stark realities they did. Cast out of their homeland because of religious intolerance the Pilgrims set sail for the New World in search of a place where they could worship as they chose. If we could compare their undertaking to one today, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to liken it to a group of people blasting off into the unknown to colonize another planet far from anything familiar. And for the Pilgrims, it was a trip without chance of return.
Once they arrived, they struggled to survive in a foreign place and often hostile environment. Expectations they would find a land of abundance like the English countryside were not met. After a first year marked with hunger, sickness, and death, the Pilgrims endured and decided it was time to give thanks.
Giving thanks for an abundant harvest wasn’t a new notion. Harvest feasts and festivals date back to pagan times in almost all cultures but they remained popular throughout the British Isles at the time of the Pilgrims. Such feasts not only offered thanksgiving to God – or in earlier times whatever local deities existed – but also celebrated bringing home a good harvest. Having food stored to last through the winter was vital for survival and a fine harvest provided a sense of security.
The Pilgrims drew on their cultural roots when they decided to offer a feast of thanksgiving and celebrate the harvest. Since the local Native Americans helped them learn how to survive in a different world, they were invited to the festivities and given – or so we would hope – homage for their role of support. Although our popular notion of the first Thanksgiving often includes roast turkey and pumpkin pie, it’s possible neither were served. Many, however, wouldn’t want salt fish and venison to grace our holiday table, two dishes historians believe did appear.
In 2012, almost four hundred years since the Pilgrims hosted their feast, many Americans face economic issues ranging from budget issues to unemployment and foreclosure. Despite the financial woes felt by many we still live in a great nation, in a time of peace and prosperity. Prices, including those on basic necessities and food, continue to climb but the majority of Americans have sound shelter, something to eat, and something to wear including shoes for our feet.
Those who hunt do so more by choice than need although there is a certain satisfaction in putting meat on the table with skill. Most whom make their own garments choose the task and although increasing numbers of us garden, more enjoy the fruits of our labors during the summer months than put up food for the coming winter.
Unlike the Pilgrims, we’re not forced to hunt or gather our food with effort. Instead, we roll a shopping cart through a well-stocked supermarket and our limitations come from how much we have to spend, not what is available to buy. If the Pilgrims could view what the New World has become, I think they’d be amazed at our lifestyles and impressed with our way of life in a land they would no longer recognize.
As we gather around the holiday table laden with turkey (wild or store bought), ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing, pie and more, let us be thankful as Americans for what we have and not whine about what we lack. Happy thanksgiving from my family to yours,