Today in the USA, folks are gathering and turkeys are going in the oven and people across the land are settling in for a festive four-day weekend. No, they’re not doing Christmas four weeks early. It’s our national day set aside to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy.
Even though it has only been a national holiday since 1863, it harks back to a feast held in 1621 by the Mayflower colonists in Plymouth, Mass. to mark their survival over a harsh winter and the first successful harvest in their new land. They were probably continuing the tradition of Harvest Festival that they had known in England. The native peoples had been hospitable and helped them understand new crops and creatures (including corn and turkeys) so they were part of the feast. From that time on, various national days of “Thanksgiving to Almighty God” were proclaimed at particular points. But it was as the Civil War was nearing its end that President Abraham Lincoln decreed it should be celebrated annually toward the end of November to help bring the divided nation back together by focusing on gratitude.
The day following traditionally marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, though there as here, that has crept earlier and earlier. Besides eating, the main activities are watching parades and/or football and catching up with friends and family. In my parishes, many of us came together for a “church family” Thanksgiving feast with each household bring a dish special to them. One year, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we even had as our unexpected guests a large Navajo family whose van had broken down, thus replicating the mix of natives and colonists some 160 years later and 2000 miles further west! In that parish we also made “takeaway” feasts to deliver to the homebound who could not access any of the free meals often provided on that day by churches and community groups.
I like that “thanksgiving” is a single word because it is a reminder that, even as we must be grateful for all we have received, we must also show that gratitude by sharing with others.
The Revd Canon Robbin Clark, Dean of Women Clergy