Briefest Meditation on our American Thanksgiving

As our American Thanksgiving dawns, I find I have two thoughts.

First. It is really important to recall that this holiday of thanksgiving as we celebrate it is for many of us problematic. That our holiday is tied to the story of the Pilgrim harvest feast of 1621, also ties this holiday into the fate of the First Nations peoples who were displaced, violently, terribly.

Many, although not all, Native Americans would rather this become a day of mourning or, perhaps repentance. Something, as I’ve read into the history of thanksgiving holidays, is interestingly not at variance with some threads of the traditions of thanksgiving.

And I don’t think we’re ever going to go that far. But. We need to remember the bad as well as the good, and as this holiday has been tied to the fate of the Indians, the native Americans, as one scholar has put it, “we do not have to feel guilty, but we should feel something.”

Second. I’d like to call us to notice that feeling, what it is, and what it can point to. In part Thanksgiving stands with those perennial human utopian projects, those dreams of some better thing, some place where the lamb and the lion lay together, some place beyond exploitation and hurt and want. The call to thanks is often deeply a call to the heart.

Those of us who’ve vowed a way of presence might find in this holiday a call to a mature remembering of what it means to be human, how hard it is, how complicated it is. Knowing the utopian urges, knowing the failures, and at the same time feeling something more, some deep urge to gratitude for our lives, to thanksgiving. As that song goes from some contemporary Passover celebrations, “they tried to kill us. We survived. Now, let’s eat.” In many ways this is the human story. Here we get the gist of all the stories of thanksgiving from pretty much all human cultures.

At heart thanksgiving is the song of possibility in the face of hardships.

And its observation centers on that most basic thing: food, and eating.

Having what we need. In the face of all odds.

Thanksgiving, celebrated correctly, turns from nothing, but also sings of hope, it sings of possibility, it sings to our dream for a time of peace, where there is enough for all.

That’s the holiday I hope we embrace.

And saying that, my fondest wishes for all to have a lovely Thanksgiving.

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