When I think of Thanksgiving, I get really excited. Ridiculously excited, one could say. Autumn is without a doubt my favorite season of the year, and it only gets better when a holiday is thrown into the middle of it.
Of course, the Pilgrims did not have the same kind of holiday that we do today. They did not travel for hours on an airplane to visit family, nor were they likely to have pumpkin pie. This is a sad truth, I know. But in order to fully appreciate such a special day, we must look at its historical context. How did we get our modern day of thanks from such a humble beginning?
The most obviously wonderful thing about Thanksgiving is probably the sheer abundance of food. I wish I could invite everyone in the world to my family’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, because my mother’s classic turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie is delightfully scrumptious! Yet food, although it is essential to any family reunion, does not create a holiday all by itself.
The Pilgrims were simply celebrating the fact that they had food at all. When was the last time you were actively grateful for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches you eat between classes every Tuesday and Thursday? When was the last time you stood in front of a full pantry and thanked God for it instead of moaning about how “nothing sounds good”?
Many Americans use the week of Thanksgiving to take a break from school or work and travel long distances to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, or that crazy cousin who only shows up for the food. In most cases, this is a time to catch up on the latest news and laugh together, enjoying each others’ company.
Unfortunately, the Pilgrims did not have that either. Half of their small number had died in the previous months, and going back home just to see their loved ones was nigh impossible. Yet they still celebrated, because while they were few, they were alive. When was the last time you were thankful to open your eyes in the morning and greet your bleary-eyed roommate?
Even the holiday’s position as a sort of bridge to Christmas seems rather unfounded. Were the Pilgrims eagerly awaiting the day’s end so they could start playing winter carols and making wish lists? Far from it, most likely; I would imagine that the day after the first Thanksgiving feast was just like any other day, filled with tending to the fields and doing laundry. The continued absence of Santa Claus reigned.
If not Christmas, then, what did the Pilgrims have to live for? Another year of hardships and trials? Not at all. They looked forward to the future, as well. They could be grateful because they were assured of God’s providence and strength as they moved forward. They could thank Him for every extra breath they took, for the food they finally had to eat, and for the gift of His Son, who assured them that their loved ones who hadn’t survived were in a better place.
What would happen if Americans today prioritized our lives like this, even just for one day? What if we stepped off the whirlwind that has become our lives and remembered God’s blessings of breath and life, His omnipresence, and his loving control over every situation we face? What if we thanked Him for the people we see every day as well as for our far-away friends and family? I think we would come to adore Him and the whole of His creation and majesty all the more.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well… Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be – Psalm 139:14, 16 (New International Version)
Written by Catherine