I have a friend who hates Thanksgiving. He says he refuses to celebrate a holiday based on lies – namely that the pilgrims and the Native Americans broke bread together in peaceful harmony, when, so he says, the Pilgrims were stealing the land from right under the Native Americans’ feet.
History tells us that the First Thanksgiving was actually about survival. So many pilgrim lives had been lost in the journey and acclimation to America, and the scarcity of food exacerbated their pain. William Bradford declared Thanksgiving as a day of feasting and celebration after the colonists finally farmed enough food to feed themselves. It was a day to honor God and his blessings, a day for all to sit down together and enjoy the bounty.
While my friend’s argument is valid, to a certain degree, I think he’s missing the point of today’s celebrations. I don’t know anyone who raises a glass to violence, stealing, or mistreatment of others. Everyone I know gathers their family together, says a prayer of Thanksgiving, and takes a moment to be grateful for our many blessings.
To me, that is what makes Thanksgiving such a truly unique holiday. It has nothing to do with Hallmark, or fulfilling wish lists, or spending massive amounts of money on gifts no one will remember this time next year. There really aren’t high expectations, either. The only hope is that the turkey will be cooked perfectly and maybe that no one will talk politics. But other than that, the day really is about relaxing, being together, and falling into a turkey stupor.
Every year for Thanksgiving, my husband and I go to our special annual place and host our family there. My husband plays chef for the day, and my only responsibility are the pies and the vegetable. Just before dinner is served, we go around the table and share what we are thankful for. Every year, my voice cracks and I get a little weepy as I give thanks for my family, for good health, and for opportunities that keep me active and engaged.
Some years, we cry because someone who used to sit at our table is no longer with us. This year we’ll celebrate our son’s engagement and the exciting year ahead. I like Thanksgiving because you never know from one year to the next what you’ll be grateful for and what you’ll be sad about. This holiday gives you an opportunity to reflect on that, to acknowledge God’s support in the bad times and His gifts that have brought you joy.
I don’t want to turn a blind eye to our history and the atrocities that have occurred, but I like to think today’s Thanksgiving isn’t about that. Just as the pilgrims sat around the table giving thanks to God not only for their bounty, but for their religious freedom, we do the same all these many years later. If we keep our thoughts and hearts focused on God, this holiday can be truly beautiful.
So try not to stress about getting along with your mother-in-law or whether to serve whole cranberries versus jellied. Try not to worry about everything being perfect or even where you’re going to seat everyone. Make this year about low stress and high esteem for our loving father who, every minute of every day, is showering us with blessings. Take time to really think about what those blessings are. That’s the meaning of Thanksgiving.