By Logan Hawkes
As Thanksgiving approaches and preparations get underway for visiting friends and family and that ever-so-special meal that is central to the American holiday, we should give pause, if even for a moment, to consider the nearly 400 years of collective celebrations that have led us to this special day of observance.
Regardless how much or how little we know about that first Thanksgiving, the truth is, we may be all together wrong, meaning we have no real way of knowing whether the events taught to us in classrooms and passed down by parents and history books are real or greatly embellished. Is the story of the American Thanksgiving nothing more than a shadow of the actual events that took place, and does it really matter whether the foods the first celebrants ate are the same that we prepare each year?
Is it true that Native Americans brought those early and daring settlers wild turkeys and berries gathered from the forest and then carefully prepared them in honor of the settlers arrival, kicking off a tradition that would be long remembered by future generations? Did those indigenous people actually share a meal with the Europeans, or was the story simply one manufactured and told by frightened and perhaps lost colonial explorers in later years one designed to entertain or re-assure their frightened children that the decision to sails across the sea to a land of danger and mystery was a wise idea at all?
The truth is, if we were honest with ourselves, what may or may not have transpired so many years ago in the fields near Plymouth Rock may not be important to our modern day holiday. Traditions, you see, have a strange way of working their way into our lives. Yet for good or bad, they generally hold great meaning to us regardless how far removed we may be from their actual beginnings or the real facts involved.
The bigger question may be the real reason we set aside such a special day each year in the first place and why do we continue to observe the day with reverence. Do we do it for tradition's sake? Is it our way of remembering a time in our historical past when daring young men and women braved the dangers and came across the ocean to establish new lives, new destinies?
I suspect that may be part of it. But I also believe it may not matter. It seems that what is really important is the setting aside of time each year to spend it thinking.
Each of us has our own story to tell; the stories of our family, the tales of our mothers and fathers and how they met and how we came into this world to be the people we have become. How did our grandparents meet and what stories do they have to tell, and the same for their fathers and mothers before themas far back as time stretches, even before the first of them came to this stretch of what they termed the New World.
For some, perhaps many, our family histories are mixed. My own family is a perfect example. My paternal grandfather six times removed, as far as I know, came here from England like so many others of that time. The exact year is unknown but what records we have indicate it was not long after those first European settlers arrived in the New World in 1621. My maternal grandfather came here from Ireland, or so we were always told, yet in each case, these daring men or their sons or grandsons often married indigenous women, and quickly our European lines were mixed with ethnic backgrounds of others.
Of course, that means for some us, like my family, our grandfathers or grandmothers' families may have been here thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived, perhaps even mingled with the white settlers on that first Thanksgiving.
Who can know with certainty whether or forefathers ten or twenty times removed came from England or traveled to England from other places like Rome, or were of Norse beginnings or connected to Turks or Jews or Arabs or Africans?
What is important, regardless who we are or the color of our skin or our religious affiliation or whether we have one or not, and in spite of where our early beginnings are rooted, we find ourselves today living in a country that celebrates a holiday each year that is much bigger than our ethnicity or histories past. It doesn't even really matter whether we call ourselves Americans or new Americans or immigrants or even visitors just passing through.
Thanksgiving, in the bigger picture, is a time for remembrance, but so much more. It is a time to count our good fortune, regardless whether those fortunes are great or small. For even in the most simple lifestyle there is cause for celebration. We may be financially challenged, between jobs or perhaps the CEO of a major corporation or a best selling author. But regardless who we are or our social standing, we laid our head down last evening on a bed of feathers or on a cold damp floor or park bench, but when we awoke it was in a place where society is ordered for good or bad. Absent are the sounds of falling bombs and the putrid smell of pandemic plague. While the world as we know it is flawed in many ways and there is crime and wrong doing and pain and illness and sadness and even death, the fact remains we arose to a new day in a land of many freedoms and of great opportunity.
Some may ask how I can ignore the sufferings of our world and the shortcomings of our society, and I say to you that I do not. We have far to go before there is no stomach empty or no sorrow that begs our tears, no child that is shoeless and no infirmary among us.
Yet I see many happy faces, and I know there are millions of Americans just like myself this day that will rise with the sun to begin their day of sweating in the kitchen and laughing in the parlors and cheering our favorite football teams to victory. And in spite of our place in life, there are many that will visit soup kitchens, some in hopes of securing a good meal and others who will volunteer their time and money to help others in need.
There will be some that can not celebrate the day, the sick and dying and lonely, the forgotten and those that have nowhere to turn. These we must remember and serve in the best way we know how. But regardless who we are or where we are or what condition we find ourselves in, we should pause and consider the fortunes we know everyday. And if we are one of the unfortunate, we should have hope for tomorrow and seek others like ourselves who could use the company of a good friend or even a good stranger.
Thanksgiving, if nothing else, represents a day of great hope. As we celebrate our blessings and all the goodness we know and have known through the years, we should also be compelled to reach out to those who have not, to those that are hurting and hungry or cold and lonely. For here is the real magic and spirit of Thanksgiving.
For those that gathered on that first Thanksgiving so many years ago, there were great challenges ahead and hardships aplenty. But it did not stop them from recognizing the goodness and the hope they had in their lives, and we should do no less.
So as you meet the Thanksgiving morning this year and regardless under what conditions, you should be thankful for all you have whether little or large, and hope for a better future for all men, all women and all children. You should find comfort in knowing we live in a place where we can dare to hope regardless the odds, and where opportunity has a way of blossoming even on the darkest of nights.
My hope, indeed my prayer this Thanksgiving, is that your special day may be filled with thoughts of gladness and your stomachs be full and your home warm and friendly, and I hope you take the time, if just for a few moments, to remember those that have less than you, for those that have needs that perhaps all of us could address, and a spirit to give even as we have received.
Happy Thanksgiving America. May the days of every one of be bright, and hope be abundant and fruitful all the days of your life.