It’s Thanksgiving time again – time to visit family, over-eat, watch football, and enjoy all those other wonderful clichéd Thanksgiving bounties that abound at this time of year. Of course, as with most holidays, it seems to get easier and easier with each passing year to lose sight of the reason we’re celebrating in the first place. Could it be that our grade-schoolers, toting home construction-paper cutouts of turkeys and hats with buckles, are more tuned in to what we’re celebrating than the rest of us?
Browsing around the Thanksgiving history sites, there’s some disagreement on just what the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plymouth were celebrating, how they celebrated – and even just when the first Thanksgiving feast took place. But common to all of the theories are two elements: celebration, and gratitude. Whether they were thankful for the coming of a mild winter, the welcome and eventual rescue they received from the Natives, or their cooperative triumph over a particularly difficult first winter, they were grateful just to be alive.
Nowadays, we certainly seem to have that celebration thing down to a science. But for many – especially those who seem to take for granted the cooshy lives they lead – it’s just a day off from work and a big meal. Nevermind that most folks neglect gratitude – trace it back, and I bet you’d find that most people don’t even realize how thankful they should be.
This Thanksgiving, I could be thankful for all the material abundance and good fortune that surrounds me. I could be thankful for having a good job, or making a good salary. I could be thankful for the new home I’m moving into, or the wedding that Kelly and I are planning. Don’t get me wrong – I am thankful for all these things – but being thankful for this is most decidedly secondary when Thanksgiving arrives.
The genuine, heartfelt gratitude that filled the first Thanksgiving wasn’t there because of material plenty. Yes, there was lots of food – but it wouldn’t have been there without the unity that was achieved with the Wampanoag Indians. Just as important, the colony certainly would not have survived had it not been for the union of the Separatists and the Strangers – the two factions of Englanders that managed to avoid each other on the Mayflower.
The Pilgrims and the Indians at Plymouth were celebrating things far more important than mere materialism or hedonism. They were celebrating survival, freedom and each other. And those are the things I’ll be mindful of and thankful for this Thanksgiving.
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful that I live in a country where I can say and do as I choose, without the fear of being imprisoned, tortured or publicly executed for doing so. Just as the Pilgrims at Plymouth were thankful for their newfound freedom, I am thankful for that freedom sustained through centuries – through all manner of assaults against it. This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful that I live in a place where we can serve any dish imaginable as we gather at the table – not because we can, but rather because our economy, our businesses and our technology make it possible to do
This Thanksgiving, most of all, I’m grateful for my family. In the 1620s, the Pilgrims were thankful for those family members that survived the trip across the Atlantic. I’m thankful that nothing today threatens my family the way that lethal journey threatened those weary travelers. I’m thankful that we’re able to be together, and – for lack of a more eloquent way of saying it – that we love each other!
As you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year, what are you thankful for? Being thankful for material abundance is great, but it’s not what this holiday is about. There are bigger things that deserve your gratitude this year.