Festivals of thanksgiving have been celebrated throughout history with most centered around a time of harvest of food. Communities came together to support each other in the work of harvesting crops and to celebrate together the bounty of the fields. Early forms of religion gave significance to the harvesting process and to the gifts of their gods in providing sustenance to the people.
The official holiday of Thanksgiving as celebrated in America today has little resemblance to the early feasts. There are certainly foods that are associated with the holiday, but the attention to Thanksgiving today is divided among consumer sales specials, football games, and a prelude to the bigger holidays that follow later in the year.
President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation to bring attention to the blessings the new country enjoyed. President Thomas Jefferson did not follow through probably believing it was too much like a religious act with which the government should not be involved. It was not until President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation to bring attention to the blessings the country had even during Civil War that the tradition was revived and continues with some small tweaks to today.
The tradition of celebrating the harvest as a custom continued in many cultures and communities apart from the government naming it a holiday. The Commonwealth of Virginia celebrating its red-letter year of 1619 when the first representative assembly met in the new world and women and Africans were brought to the Virginia colony also points out that in 1619 an act of thanksgiving took place at Berkeley Plantation on the James River when a new group of colonizers arrived. For many, what happened at Berkeley was the first English thanksgiving in America and should be recognized as such. After all, the English on the James River in Virginia were celebrating a thanksgiving before the Puritans left England for Massachusetts.
To learn more about Virginia’s plans to celebrate the “first” Thanksgiving and the other very significant events in a quadricentennial celebration of 1619, go to https://www.americanevolution2019.com/about/ .
Recognizing the long and multi-faceted celebrations of thanksgiving, how can we cut through the commercialism of the holiday and give it meaning in today’s complex world? There is much that causes me and others a great deal of distress from our government’s loss of a moral compass to the rise in acts of hate to the hunger and poverty around the world. Within that, however, there are many wonderful people doing great deeds and communities of diverse people living together and looking out for each other in harmony and mutual respect.
Sharing foods as part of the tradition of Thanksgiving is good but should not be the end result. Thanksgiving offers a time for reflection. It can be less a time of acquiring or wishing for what we don’t have and more a time of appreciating what we do have. Find time to be grateful today. I am thankful for you!