I’ve always said, Thanksgiving is a way of life, not just a Holiday. To understand this better, let’s look at the first Thanksgiving celebrations. In the early 17th century, the first English Colony, Plymouth, was settled. Of the original 102 settlers, disease and famine took the lives of nearly half. Celebrating a Harvest was an English Tradition they brought to the New World. Together, with the Wampanoag Indians, they gathered for a celebratory feast. You might remember one of the attendees, Squanto, the translator for the two groups. Despite the common foods eaten at modern-day Thanksgivings, most of them were not present in the early 1600s. They didn’t have an oven, potatoes, or Turkey; the feast was not even called “Thanksgiving.” A few years later, the Pilgrims held an official Thanksgiving, sans banquet. Thanksgiving was a day of prayer and fasting. Imagine that: fasting on Thanksgiving. The two events eventually merged into a day of reflection, reverence and of course, dining. George Washington declared the last Thursday of November a “National Thanksgiving,” but it was not a National Holiday. It didn’t become recognized as such until 1863, during the devastating Civil War, when President Lincoln declared it a such.
Let’s examine at some of the traits from the original events, and this gives an idea of what Thanksgiving truly means.
*The settlers present at the first feast saw 50% of their group, wiped-out. Thanksgiving is understanding that Life is fragile, short, and sacred.
*The settlers ate with the Wampanoag Indians, as different a culture as you could find, and used a translator to communicate. Thanksgiving is a bridge between cultures and ethnicities.
*Before it was a national holiday, the actual Day of Thanksgiving was a peaceful day of prayer and fasting. Many families hold hands and say Grace, but no matter what religious views you hold, if any, Thanksgiving is a day of reflection. As far as fasting, it may not be a bad idea to hold off on eating until the “big meal.” Thanksgiving is in the heart and mind first, then the stomach.
*The foods at the original feasts were not the foods we associate with the Holiday. It’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving without turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is not about the food, it’s about the people you’re with and why you’re together.
*President Lincoln hoped that the declaration of Thanksgiving as official Holiday in 1863 would ease tensions and unify the embattled country. Though the Civil War raged for another two years, the Holiday stood for something. Thanksgiving is the mending of fences, setting aside or ending disagreements and embracing what unifies us, not divides us.
You’re lucky to be alive. Invite someone outside your family to join you this year. Bury the hatchet, if needed. Reflect on the majesty of the Universe above and around, and remember, it’s not about the food.