This time of year is so thick with Holidays that it can be hard to catch your breath. When I was a child, the weeks between Halloween and Christmas seemed to stretch out forever. Now it feels as though I am assaulted by them all at once. Like Sally, I find that while I still have candy left over from Halloween, a simple trip to the grocery store finds me besieged by ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ and ‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer’.
Still, as busy and cluttered as this time of year seems to be, I still look forward to Thanksgiving.
Despite the parades, the gluttony and ignoring, to the best of my ability, the football obsessed and their need to scream at the television between servings of pumpkin pie, there is a strange Zen like quality to the holiday. With none of the pressures of buying the right gift or getting the costume “just so”, it exists as a moment of relative calm within the chaotic vortex of the American holiday season.
Gather your family and friends.
Eat an excess of turkey and pie.
Sleep a few hours and then repeat.
As festivals go, it is beautiful in it’s simplicity.
The other thing I enjoy about Thanksgiving is that it doesn’t really belong to any one group. Certainly, there are certain groups who have have tried to claim it for themselves. President Lincoln’s proclamation, making Thanksgiving a national holiday, is so full of references to the “Most High” and “Father in Heaven” that, reading it, I am forced to wonder if someone misplaced the 1st Amendment to the Constitution during the Fall of 1863.
Given the circumstances of what we in the United States like to think of as the First Thanksgiving, it is easy to see where such a claim could be made.
The problem with this argument is that it can so easily be turned on it’s head just by looking at the actual context in which these events transpired.
The Plymouth colony would have collapsed, and it’s people starved to death, had it not been for the assistance given by the Wampanoag, under the leadership of Massasoit. The “Indians” were not simply invited to the feast, they were responsible for it. The first Thanksgiving can just as easily be seen as that humbling moment when a people who believed themselves to be technologically and spiritually more advanced than the native “savages”, were saved by a people who lived in a spiritual relationship with the land.
Sounds like a very “Pagan friendly” holiday to me.
Then, of course, there are those who choose to see Thanksgiving as a cautionary tale.
Massasoit allied himself with the Plymouth colony for his own reasons, most of which were political and tactically advantageous for the Wampanoag people. Unfortunately, he lacked a true understanding of the European concept of “Land Ownership”. The plight of his people and eventually all Native Americans against the relentless onslaught of Euro-American expansion and depredations have caused many to mark the 4th Thursday in November as a day of mourning.
How then should we celebrate Thanksgiving Day?
The day and it’s history just sit there taunting us, daring us to try and define them, to claim them for our particular causes and viewpoints. Thanksgiving smirks at us like Lucy, holding that damned football tipped upright in our path by a single wicked finger. We have only to make a run for it. She wouldn’t pull it away from us this time. It is Thanksgiving after all and there are traditions to be observed and honored.
So, does it stand as another moment of triumphalism for the dominant cultural faith? Perhaps it exists as a moment to embrace a gentle humility of the spirit and cooperation between those with disparate beliefs? Perchance we shall greet it as an opportunity to initiate a deeper relationship with our environment? Or will we cast about for ways to punish ourselves for the sins of our grandfathers?
Maybe it is my particular polytheistic perspective that allows me to see it as all these things. The day simply IS what we choose to see it as, and the question of why we gather together is, in the end, far less important than the fact that we do.
Good old Charlie Brown will keep tilting at windmills while Linus preaches from the sidelines. I think I’ll just enjoy another helping of cornbread dressing.