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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Chapter Sixty-Two, in which We mark Thanksgiving

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors."

Today we mark a holiday that is not political, and yet has a distinctly American flavor, second only to Independence Day; not religious, and yet, as the name indicates, often features prayers of thanks; and not invented, like Mother's Day, though the day was arbitrarily set long after the event it was meant to commemorate.

Football and parades being attached to this day only recently, the main observance of the holiday is the meal, a re-creation and remembrance of the first harvest in 1621 at Plymouth Colony, as noted in the above quote by Edward Winslow (first colonial groom and future governor); and therein lies the beauty of the holiday.

Though President Lincoln officially established the last Thursday of November as a national day to give thanks, the basis of the day has one element that is a standard feature of many religious celebrations. Harvest festivals are traditional in cultures throughout the world. For Christians in particular, thank offerings abound in the Bible, and the communal meal is the first noticeable feature of early Jewish-Christian worship, a supper party of fellowship, which usually took place in the homes of followers. Besides the passover Seder feast, a meal offering of thanks to God which antedated Moses, Jesus often participated in communal meal sharing with publicans and harlots, a bringing-together of diverse peoples just as the colonists and native Americans of this country would do many hundreds years later.

When you sit to Thanksgiving dinner today, take a moment to reflect on the sacredness of the meal. No special class of person is required to perform the rites of blessing or feeding. No special place is required. The holiday is truly one of fellowship. When you pass the potatoes or turkey, you are testifying to a community, not by words or faith, but by deed.

Thanksgiving conjures images of Pilgrims, football, and harried days of shopping madness. Behind it all, whether we are aware or not, we carry on the tradition of the communal share-meal. In secular form we all rejoice together.

1 comment:

  1. This post was a great antidote to the article about Thanksgiving in this month's Smithsonian magazine. The article described the political pressures that Massasoit and "Squanto" -- the tribal leaders who attended the first dinner -- were under at the time, and why it was to their political advantage to make friends with the pilgrims. According to the article, they were far from the disinterested, altruistic noble savages the history books made them out to be. Not that the pilgrims were any great shakes either.

    Sorry. I didn't mean to be snarky and depressing. I had a wonderful TG, and I do feel very grateful and blessed in my life.