Shelter Island Reporter editorial: Welcome the stranger

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Thanksgiving is rightly praised for being a unique American holiday. Canadians, as North Americans, have one, so we count them, even if they insist on having their day of thanks in October. Our day also has the virtue of not being associated with religious or patriotic rites.

This year the meaning of the day has become more important than in previous years. Reactionaries like the loud-mouthed Donald Trump and his softer-voiced colleague Ben Carson are retailing fear for good polling numbers. Other candidates for president are calling for religious litmus tests for people fleeing for their lives, seeking refuge from murderous thugs who are motivated by their religious beliefs.

Welcome the stranger? Hell no, leading politicians are thundering.

This Thanksgiving is a perfect time to revisit the story every school child learns about the Native Americans who taught visitors to their shore how to grow corn and how both communities sat down and broke bread together.

We learn as children that we’re free, and we’re all equal, and so have a duty to give thanks.

The myths surrounding Thanksgiving grew out of actual facts. But it’s fairly certain the Pilgrims of Massachusetts didn’t just up and decide to hold the first Thanksgiving in 1621 and invite the Native Americans to dinner to thank them for their help in keeping the colonists’ community alive.

Early winter feasts giving thanks for bringing in a harvest, guaranteeing survival through the coldest months, were common in Europe and colonial America long before the Plymouth colony.

There might have been a roasted wild turkey or two at the Pilgrims’ dinner, but it wouldn’t have been the centerpiece. Venison and eels would have taken that mouth-watering pride of place and pumpkin pie was probably not served. Cranberries would have been on the menu, but not as a relish.

What is certainly true about Thanksgiving is it’s a day every American knows is set aside to count blessings and remember an important element in the founding of our country.

People take what they will from the day. But some facts: In 1863, Abraham Lincoln codified our national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated annually on the last Thursday in November.

About a month after that proclamation, Lincoln spoke at the cemetery at Gettysburg, beginning his address by saying, that we were a new nation, “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

More than enough to be thankful for, and essential to remember.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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