Thanksgiving and Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is — complicated.

Pilgrims, Patuxets and Plymouth

Thanksgiving is an American holiday.

We celebrate by gobbling, guzzling and getting together with members of our extended family.

Some of us also express thanks for having all that food. And either enjoy time with kinfolk, or rejoice that we won’t see them again until next year.

It’s a distinctly secular holiday.

Depending on who’s talking, the first North American Thanksgiving was in 1578, 1619, 1621, 1789 or some other year.

Again depending on who’s talking, America’s Thanksgiving started as a profoundly religious celebration. Or a party, celebrating Plymouth Plantation immigrants’ newfound hope that they would survive the coming winter.

Either way, the traditional narrative is that the Pilgrim Fathers came, settled, met kindly Indians and had a good harvest. After which the P.F. praised God.

The story’s true, as far as it goes.

The Plymouth Plantation immigrants learned, the hard way, that European seeds didn’t do well around Cape Cod Bay. Not the way they were trying to grow them.

Samoset, an Abenaki sagamore, made initial contact with the Pilgrims. He called in Tisquantum as an agricultural advisor.

Tisquantum — Squanto in many American accounts — introduced the newcomers to North American agriculture.

And folks living in Plymouth had a harvest party in 1621.

Tisquantum was the last surviving Patuxet. He’d been sold as a slave, which probably saved his life. Patuxets were part of the Wampanoag tribal confederation.

The Pilgrims were Puritans. Their leaders were mostly Brownists, Puritans who wanted out of the Church of England.

Wampanoag lived in what’s now Connecticut, southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Their descendants still do. Like I said, it’s complicated.1

Harvest Festivals

Canada’s Thanksgiving looks pretty much like the U.S. version.

That’s not surprising, since both countries have similar cultural roots and histories.

Our Thanksgiving looks a lot like England’s Harvest Home celebration.

Harvest Home in turn looks like other European harvest festivals.

I think all of the above look like Lohri and Vaisakhi, Pongal and Jūng-chāu Jit.

Granted, I’m likely to see similarities and connections, and that’s another topic.

Jūng-chāu Jit (中秋節) is also known as Zhōngqiū Jié (中秋节), Harvest Moon Festival and about a half-dozen other monikers.2

Giving Thanks Anyway

Feeling thankful when times are good should be easy.

Being thankful in bad times? Not so much.

I can be thankful that I’ve got a roof over my head, food in the house and a good family. Or I can kvetch about being born with bad hips, two of our kids dying, and every other rough patch in my life.

Being thankful strikes me as making more sense. Rough patches and current economic issues aside, I have a good life.

But what about folks who don’t have a roof over their head, food in their home and a good family? Or, in some cases, any surviving family.

What could someone living with rough times have to be thankful for?

A key word there is “living.” Remembering that being alive beats the alternative has helped me endure suicidal impulses. (January 22, 2019)

I figure existence itself is cause for giving thanks.

That’s because I think God creates and maintains everything and everyone. And lets created beings, including us, help: each according to its nature. (Genesis 1:1; Psalms 136:19; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 301308)

Our nature being what it is — I’ve talked about that before. (February 2, 2018)

Rough Patches

One of my — and my wife’s — rough patches was when my wife almost died, and Elizabeth did.

I could say that I read Job 1:21 and Psalms 69:3031 while sitting by my wife’s hospital bed: and immediately started thanking God for what was happening.

That’s not what I did.

I tried, briefly, bargaining with God; then got smart and started asking for help while dealing with the unpleasant reality. (February 19, 2017; October 9, 2016)

Maybe I could score points in some circles by claiming Job-like virtue. But with my particular judgment approaching, that seems imprudent. At best. (September 30, 2018)

Equality, Differences and Being Thankful

I don’t see a problem with telling God ‘thank you’ for having a roof over my head and food in the house.

Provided that I don’t start imagining that being in one of life’s smooth(ish) patches is due to my outstanding virtue. Or vice.

Stuff happens: wealth and poverty, sickness and health. None of that’s a sure sign of virtue or sin. What I do with what I’ve got: that’s what matters. (1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5; Catechism, 828, 1509, 2211, 22882291, 22922296, 2448, 2540, 2544)

That’s why I see no problem with traditional expressions of thanksgiving for abundance. Or simply for having “galore:” enough.3

I think each of us has equal dignity. And that we’re all different. Some need help. Others can give help. Giving, and getting, is part of what being human is about. (Catechism, 19341938)

I figure that most, maybe all, of us should be giving and getting help. And being thankful when we can give. (Acts 20:35)

I’m pretty sure being thankful when we give others the opportunity to help us make sense, too. And that’s yet another topic.

I think these posts are related. Your experience may vary:

1 America’s Thanksgiving history:

2 Celebrating the harvest:

3 Abundance and galore:

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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2 Responses to Thanksgiving and Being Thankful

  1. Adding 추석 (秋夕) to your list of harvest festivals, the one celebrated by Koreans. Officially transliterated as Chuseok, it’s actually pronounced like “chew suck.” The literal meaning is “Autumn eve.”

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