Most of us know something about the far-from-glorious fall-out that followed that first, mythical “Thanksgiving Day”. It’s easy enough to get attached to the negative political connotations of this holiday, and to have Thanksgiving become “Guiltfast” or “Guiltfest”.
In no way do I want to belittle the horror and carnage that followed the “founding of a new land” (new to whom?) as manifest destiny was used as an ideological weapon that allowed the settlers to push westward, killing and being killed, and irrevocably changing the fabric of a nation forever.
The inarguable atrocities occurred for hundreds of years, and continue to this day. The Trail of Tears (or, “Nunna dual Tsuni” in the Cherokee language; The Trail Where They Cried). “Americanization” of Native peoples. Broken treaties.
However, we can also believe – or at least hope against hope – that there was, once upon a time, that first gathering of thanksgiving, where the newcomers, out of a deep sense of gratitude and recognition, invited the native people to share a feast with them in thanks for the help that had allowed the settlers to survive their early days in a new land.
This coming together of openhearted and grateful sharing is the spirit I attempt to enter into the holiday with. This, and the belief that it’s worth dedicating at least one day out of the year to the practice of gratitude.
Thanksgiving day does not need to be a political statement. I’ll go even further and say that though the institutionalization of the federal holiday may have originally been a political move, the observation of the holiday has become one of that is patently apolitical. And while the original wording of the proclamations that the Thanksgiving holiday is built upon were Christian in intent, the observation has become more or less secular.
Today, for most Americans, the spirit of Thanksgiving is one of inclusion. Pagans, and even Atheists celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a chance to take inventory of our lives, an opportunity to consciously reflect upon and share the things we are truly grateful for with friends and family. And a time to indulge in the fruits of our harvests – literal or metaphoric – by way of a large feast, often brought together in a stone-soup or potluck manner.
Like so many of the celebrations of the darkening season, this feast is both a recognition of bounty, and a practice of faith. Faith that through shared abundance, there’s no winter that will be hard enough that we don’t get through it. And at the basic, beautiful, mundanely rooted nature of it, the actual bounty is in no way metaphoric, but is wholly celebratory.
Perhaps somewhere in these days leading up to the holiday you’ll take some time to reflect on the history of the native people of these lands, because this dark side of the history of this nation should never be forgotten – and all too often, it is.
Perhaps you will educate your children about the shadows that dwell behind the images of Pilgrims and turkeys that adorn their classrooms, because their teachers are not going to. Maybe you’ll take a moment of silent prayer, or maybe even shared prayer, in recognition of the hidden history of the Indian Wars and the cultural genocide of the native peoples of this country before (or even at) your Thanksgiving gathering – because until there’s a federally recognized Indigenous People’s Day proclaimed, this is one of the few days out of the year that reminds us of our national shadow history.
And, maybe the awareness of what you’re grateful for will serve as a reminder to offer what you can to those who have less.
And, I hope you’ll begin counting your blessings. Because once you begin counting, you won’t be able to stop.
On Thanksgiving, you have an opportunity to recognize not just the bounty of your table piled high and your cup running over, but also the wealth of community, family, and abundance of all forms. And the more conscious you become of what it is that you’re grateful for, the deeper your experience of the holiday of Thanksgiving will be.
Some Thanksgiving Fun and Games:
Read My Other Gratitude and Thanksgiving Related Posts: