It’s Thanksgiving, again. On this day, we are supposed to give thanks for, well, everything.
This year, most of us have to dig deeper. Our gratitude has to swim upstream against a backdrop of known racial injustices, idiot liars who want to openly subvert our system of democracy, a pandemic and quarantines, masks and physical distances and general anger, division, resentment and malaise that have marked this year like a branding iron. For those of us who are also sick with COVID or some other malady (and there are way too many of us), it is yet another layer of excrement on a shit cake that is 2020. So why do Thanksgiving? Why not just eat the damn turkey and mashed potatoes and stew in resentful silence?
I’ll tell you why. The holiday of Thanksgiving was created by President Abraham Lincoln so that the United States could begin to heal after a bloody civil war that ripped this country apart. For four long, brutal years, brother fought against brother, and too many battlegrounds were slippery with blood of soldiers who were barely older than children (the average age of a Union soldier was 25 years, but boys as young as 12 served as cavalry buglers or drummer boys). A Wikipedia article states that between 250,000 and 420,000 boys under 17 were involved in the Civil War, for both the Union and the Confederacy. It is also estimated that 100,000 Union soldiers were under 15 years of age. The war was also more lethal because this was a war that saw Americans first use of shrapnel — shells that were filled with bits of metal and could explode in mid-air, booby traps, and land mines.
However, this is not how our children learn about Thanksgiving. In many schools over many years, children were taught to put on plays or wear costumes that show Pilgrims entertaining or sharing with Indians with the “first” Thanksgiving. Or, as they called it, the English tradition of a Harvest Festival. The participants celebrated for several days, dining on venison and wild fowl like goose, duck, turkey, fish, and, of course, cornbread, or perhaps dried corn more likely, because of a bountiful corn harvest. The year was 1621.
It’s true that the idea of that multi-day gathering was about sharing food, of immigrants dining together with Native people, and was about giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. And although it wasn’t actually the origin of the holiday and doesn’t really have a connection to Thanksgiving as declared by Lincoln, it was an important gathering because taking time from a life of hardship, hard work and disease to celebrate and eat and enjoy the simpler pleasures of food and company was as important then as it is now.
Lincoln’s Thanksgiving was about healing through gratitude. And gratitude is healing. Focusing on what we have not only makes us feel better momentarily, it makes us better in mind and body. And right now, this is the time we desperately need healing.
At our family’s little Thanksgiving meal in our home, a couple of us have almost completely lost the sense of taste and can’t enjoy the food that much. There is no beer or wine, because we are all still trying to get better, and don’t want alcohol messing with our immune systems. But we talk, and joke and laugh and make plans, enjoying each other’s company — just the four of us. And we all have gratitude to share.
It’s worth digging a bit deeper, at least once a year (if not more often), working a little bit extra to focus on and talk about the things to be thankful and grateful for.
Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good night.