This November we can all be thankful that what seemed like a never-ending election season is over. We can also give thanks that the election was not rigged, as we were ominously warned all summer up to Election Day that it might be.
Thanksgiving is unique in that it’s the only national holiday that has nothing to do with war or soldiers — like the Glorious Fourth celebrating our independence won in blood from Britain, or Veterans or Memorial days. It’s also not about individuals, such as the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington, or remembering Martin Luther King Jr. and Columbus. Or a day associated with religion, such as Christmas.
Looking at the history of the day, the essence of myth surfaces. We’re speaking of the original meaning of the word, of a story that offers a lesson, and not the modern usage as something untrue. Myths are centered on truth, teaching a community values through the power of a narrative all can understand.
Stories handed down from generation to generation — whether facts have been lost, obscured or tempered by time — reinforce what families and nations believe about the best parts of themselves.
And those best parts of America are being grateful, sharing what we have, and welcoming the newcomer, for as scripture teaches, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers …”
There’s the story every school child learns, passed down from long ago, about the Indians, who besides teaching the Pilgrims to catch eels, also taught them to grow corn, and both communities sat down in peace and broke bread together.
We’re taught the lesson that we’re free, we’re all equal, and have a duty to give thanks and practice hospitality and charity. This myth grew out of 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 Indians to dinner to thank them for their help in keeping the colonists’ community alive.
Early winter feasts giving thanks for bringing in a harvest that would guarantee survival and even comfort 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 those 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 unquestionably 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.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln codified our national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated annually on the final Thursday of November. About a month after that proclamation, Lincoln spoke at a cemetery in Pennsylvania, 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.