What Is Thanksgiving?

by Karole Passmore

What is Thanksgiving?

From childhood we were given a simple view of the first celebration.  Pilgrims, Indians, corn, a big feast.  These were elements of the first Thanksgiving, but so much more went into that day of the feast.

From the beginning, at the first celebration of Thanksgiving we see at least two different cultures coming together after struggling to understand each other, and ultimately combining efforts to fulfill the need of survival.  Theirs was a celebration of the long hard efforts to find a way to sustain themselves in a new world, working cooperatively with others whose language and culture were foreign to them.

Today our television image of a perfect Thanksgiving is one of relatives all coming together in that beautiful home with French windows, a roaring fireplace and soft music playing as cousins, uncles, and brothers all gather happily for a feast.

But just like that first Thanksgiving, there isn’t always a home to gather in.  And those who gather may not be relatives- most likely in countless gatherings there are “others” who have been invited to share in the feast.  New friends we have grown to love and admire have been invited into the fold to share the bounty, while sometimes family members are separated by distance or estranged.

And in many gatherings there are empty places where loved ones sat.  They, just as some early pilgrims, didn’t survive the past year and aren’t around the table for many reasons that have touched everyone present.  In gatherings today there will be people missed and sadness in the mix of all the emotions that come with this day of Thanksgiving.

If we truly embrace the meaning of Thanksgiving we realize that it was not about much more than a feast to honor the past year of struggles to survive.  All of us in our own ways have struggled this past year.  And today though we miss our loved ones who cannot be with us, or regret that our bounty is not as we wish it could be, we still give thanks.

The pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving were probably bone tired from harvesting and shucking corn- which they had never done before.  They were maybe a little grumpy from the long months of physical labor they weren’t used to in this new land.  And the language barriers were surely frustrating at times.  But in the end, tired, hungry and feeling a bit out of place, sadness weighing on some hearts, they sat down and enjoyed the feast.

It is a feast of hope today as much as it was back then.  Hope for some healing from the past year, hope for a better crop to come, hope for our relatives to find their way to this new land.  So in this definition of Thanksgiving, we can all find a place.  Not a place of “perfection,” but as our forefathers and mothers taught us- a place to be thankful right now, where we are, for the smallest things.

Happy Thanksgiving