Over the weekend I got sucked into Desperate Crossing, a History Channel special on the Mayflower. How factual the whole thing was, I don’t know, but they did have quite a few historians who didn’t just speculate about how the whole Plymouth colony and the first Thanksgiving went down. They drew on primary texts and knowledge about both the Puritans who came to America and the Wampanaog people who lived in the area where they settled. In many ways, the docudrama undermined the myths I’d been taught as a child (and which are still being taught to my children) and I appreciated that. The whole Thanksgiving story had always felt like a story to me, akin to the Greek and Roman myths.
This morning, Slate magazine has an article about people getting all up in arms about the de-Christianization of Thanksgiving. It’s clear from the docudrama and from the Slate article, however, that religion was not the central focus of the first Thanksgiving celebration. It was a harvest celebration and also a celebration of two very different groups of people putting their differences aside to be thankful for the fruits of their hard labor. As I was watching, I thought that this was a rare moment where our ancestors decided not to conquer and pillage but to try to work toward reconciliation and understanding. And so, I want this Thanksgiving to be about that impetus that we seem to have lost somewhere along the way. It should remind us that we are capable of reconciliation and diplomacy, of respecting differences, and of appreciating what we have and sharing it with others. Unlike Christmas, at Thanksgiving, we give no gifts except the gift of company and conversation. Just before the bitter cold of winter strikes, we sit down to a meal, warm and filling, with people we love around us. What could be more perfect than that and what could be more hopeful.