It’s the first in a series of year-end celebrations, the others being Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years. New Years Day is technically the BEGINNING of the year, but what we’re talking about-really-is New Year’s EVE. January 1st is really just for Alka-Seltzer IV drips and watching college football until bloodshot eyes roll back into their sockets like hot coals in a snow bank.
You could make the case that Veterans Day kicks it off, but that is really tacky or that Kwanzaa (Swahili for “A Couple of Days in January”) wraps it up, but it’s the Big Four which put the Seasons in Seasons Greetings.
I mean, after all, what evokes the holiday spirit more than getting trampled at Wal-Mart by frenzied harpies in bathrobes and curlers on Black Friday?
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate how special Thanksgiving is. A more sober occasion than the frenetic zaniness of the Yuletide season, families gather at Thanksgiving just for the sake of being together, not because they hope to score the latest electronic gizmo.
Oh, sure, there are parades, football games, and enough food to sink the Mayflower, but Thanksgiving is thankfully (pardon the pun) devoid of the commercialism of Christmas and the bacchanalian excess of New Year’s Eve. It’s similar to Hanukah, but, even during the Festival of Lights, there is some amount of commercialized gift-giving.
Gratefully, we aren’t bombarded by wall-to-wall advertisements to get your loved ones the very latest in techno wizardry (“Because, if you REALLY loved Mom, you’d buy her an I-Phone!”) in the run-up to Thanksgiving. Plus, there’s no such thing as a “24-Hour Thanksgiving Music Station” nor a “Randolph the Hair-Lipped Turkey” special on the Hallmark channel.
No, Thanksgiving is a calming prelude to the mania which paralyzes every December. It’s a time to appreciate what we’ve been given in life.
As the day draws nearer, I think back to that very first day of thanks held almost four hundred years ago...
Oh, what a day it must have been!
The brightly colored leaves swirling madly amongst the trees, the autumn wind blowing briskly over freshly-harvested fields, and the forest animals bustling crazily about in preparation for winter.
And nobody fighting over the remote.
So it was in 1621 that Governor Bradford of Plimouth (that’s how they spelled it back then, smart guy) Colony thought it was high time to celebrate a day of thanksgiving.
Frantically scurrying to find a suitable venue at which to hold their celebration, the Pilgrim fathers were disappointed to learn they were too late; all the good days in October and early November had been reserved months ago for the Pequot/Schwartz wedding reception, the Jamestown “We Were First” Commemoration, and the last Mohican family reunion.
Luckily, a spot opened up the last Thursday of November when the “Mohawks On Ice!” was forced to close when some rogue Hurons stole their loincloths. So, the Native Europeans invited their friends, the Native Americans, to a grand feast held at the local Moose lodge picnic pavilion (with real moose. Or, would that be ‘mooses?’ No matter).
A grateful people, the Pilgrims wished to thank the “heathen savages” for all their help getting the colony on its feet. After all, the tribe was essential to their gaining a foothold in the New World, long before the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, and all-you-can-eat casino buffets.
Imagine what would have happened had Squanto not taught the Pilgrims to plant dead fish with their corn (“Behold, I bring you the gift of maize! As long as you don’t mind the smell of dead fish”).
Prior to that, they just stuck them in their trousers.
Plus, the tribe brought the eel pies. Hmmmmmm....eel.
Many customs today hearken back to this coming together of disparate peoples. The feast, the fellowship, and the two-hand touch game of lacrosse after supper laid the foundation of that which identifies us as a nation.
Luckily, some aspects of that first thanksgiving have not survived. For instance, few people realize that, while turkey was indeed one of the dishes, the main course consisted primarily of venison, cod, squirrels, and SPAM.
And, as much fun as scalping captive fur trappers from New France was, I don’t think it would go over that big today. Then again, they were French.
TOMORROW: The giving of thanks. Or nobody eats.