Thanksgiving, A Little History, And Some Optimism

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful.  Actually, most of us should be thankful every day for life’s blessings.  But Thanksgiving is a specific day set aside to be thankful.  The idea of being thankful has been practiced by many cultures over thousands of years.  This includes many Native American cultures. The celebration was often tied to the fall harvest and being thankful for having the food to survive the upcoming winter.  

When the Pilgrims first came to Plymouth Rock in 1620, they almost starved.  In fact most stayed on the their ship, the Mayflower, the first winter and it is estimated only about half of the original 102 crew and passengers survived until spring.  In March, when the passengers moved to shore, they were surprised when a member of the Abenaki tribe visited them and he introduced the pilgrims to Squanto.  

Squanto is a fascinating story.  He was kidnapped by an English captain and forced into slavery.  He later escaped and was able to return to his homeland as part of an exploratory mission.  He’s and other Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to survive in their new home.  In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims and local Native Americans had feast to celebrate the harvest.  It was a feast of thanksgiving for all.  For the Pilgrims, it was also a feast of survival and optimism they had enough food to live thru the upcoming winter.  

Would the Pilgrims survived without Squanto and other local Native Americans?  Maybe, most likely not.  

So hundreds of years later, what do many Native Americans think about Thanksgiving?  For many it is an official day of morning.  In fact, in 1970 the United American Indians of New England established the fourth Friday in November as a National Day of Mourning for Native Americans and Their Allies.  https://blog.nativehope.org/what-does-thanksgiving-mean-to-native-americans

So what does this all mean?

  It means the history of being thankful goes back a long ways.  

  Many cultures including and especially Native American cultures celebrated the fall harvest with a feast and thankfulness for food to survive the upcoming winter. 

  It also means the first Thanksgiving was truly a celebration among friends and neighbors with different backgrounds for the blessing of having a good harvest and enough food to survive the winter.  We can all learn and take inspiration from the meaning behind the first Thanksgiving.  

Being thankful does not mean every part of life and our personal history is good.  The National Day of Mourning celebrated by some Native Americans does not mean they are not thankful.  They are just not thankful for what happened to Native American lands, culture and people over the past 500 years.  They certainly can and should be expected to feel this way and anyone who does not understand this is lacking an understanding of history and the empathetic part of their brain is not functional.  

There are parts of my life for which I am not thankful.  Some my own doing others not so much.  But being thankful is not about everything always being good.  It is about being thankful whatever we can find in life that is good.   

For those struggling to find any good in their lives, hopefully they can find inspiration from he Pilgrims.  The fall of 1620 was very ugly.  Think of it this way, if you were stuck in a small enclosure of about 100 people and a few months later, only half survived, it would hard to be either optimistic or thankful.  But by fall of 1621 along with immense help from their Native American neighbors, they were able to have a celebration of thanks.  Thanksgiving is not just about being thankful, but also about surviving bad times and being optimistic for the future.  

So enjoy food, probably a lot of it, and maybe some football, but I would also suggest the following.  Remember the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of neighbors who did not know each other a year earlier, worked to together to grow food for the next winter, became friends, and were optimistic for the future.