Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Gracias, grazie, merci, danke, thank you.

Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving, the giving of thanks.

Whenever we give thanks, we usually hear a response like “no problem, think nothing of it, sure, glad to do it, de nada.” The one I prefer is the one we should be hearing when we thank God: “You’re welcome”, which means that we deserve what He has given us. But, I’m ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at the history of this wonderful feast:

The precise historical origin of the holiday is disputed. Although Americans commonly believe that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by the pilgrims who landed aboard the Mayflower at Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, there is strong evidence for earlier celebrations in Canada (1578) and by Spanish explorers in Florida (1565).

Good luck with that. The traditional origin of Thanksgiving in the United States, for my money-and, generally speaking, most agree-is the one that occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation. It was early in the history of what would become one of the original colonies that later were to become the United States.

For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days. (Obviously, they didn’t have football on TV!)

Interestingly, while no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, it was recorded Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. (How’s that for bringing a covered dish!)

Historians have suggested that many of the dishes, by the way, were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts. Bummer.

The Pilgrims who sailed to this country aboard the Mayflower were originally members of the English Separatist Church (a Puritan sect). They had earlier fled their home in England and sailed first to Holland to escape religious persecution. There is no doubt, then, that their feast began with prayers of thanksgiving. Probably the first ‘grace before meals’.

So, let’s all remember that these original Pilgrims celebrated just being alive after a perilous journey, finding a new home that gave them safety and a bountiful harvest. Let’s not worry about what’s for dinner. Let’s just thank God for our lives, for every breath we take. If we listen carefully, we might even hear in our hearts, “ You’re welcome”.

The question will be: are we?