The under-appreciated holiday focused on being appreciative is upon us: Thanksgiving. It falls between my personal favorite holiday, Halloween, and the most popular holiday, Christmas. Often, Thanksgiving has a tendency to fall through the cracks. While Thanksgiving may not be my favorite holiday, I think its main purpose, thankfulness, is something to be celebrated.
After reading quite a few myself, I am comfortable saying that the cornerstone of most self-help books is gratefulness. Whether this is through keeping a gratitude journal, saying a mantra of positivity, etc., these are all ways of expressing thankfulness and reminding yourself that you are blessed. Luckily, there’s a holiday for that.
Most of us are taught that Thanksgiving began in the early days of the United States after the English colonists of Plymouth and the Wampanoag people shared a harvest feast in 1621. The symbolism of their working together to survive in the early days of settling America is meant to bring people together, no matter their differences. Thanksgiving, as a holiday, is especially good at this. In recent years, people travel home for Thanksgiving than they do for Christmas. According to AAA, 50.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving. I do not know how far the Wampanoag people traveled to Plymouth, but even if it was 50 miles or more, there surely weren’t 50.9 million of them.
The people of Plymouth did not invent the idea of Thanksgiving. In fact, they regularly practiced days of “thanksgivings” back in England as days of prayer, thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Plymouth’s Thanksgiving began when a few of the 50 or so colonists left the settlement to hunt geese and ducks and killed enough to “serve the company almost a week.” Next, about 100 Wampanoag arrived at the gates, unplanned. The colonists let them in and they spent the next few days socializing. The Wampanoag contributed venison to the feast which would have included fowl, fish, eels, shellfish, stews, vegetables and beer. I don’t know about you all, but if my family starts serving eels and shellfish as part of our Thanksgiving meal, I won’t be partaking.
While I am sure the people of Plymouth would not approve of most parts of modern society, historians record the first Thanksgiving as quite the raucous affair. People ate their feast sitting on the ground or on barrels because of the lack of buildings and chairs in the settlement. During the multiple-day feast, the men fired guns, ran races and drank liquor, all while attempting to speak in broken English and Wampanoag.
I personally find this real story of the first “American” Thanksgiving fascinating. It is much messier and more human than I was always taught, but the sentiment remains the same. I doubt the people of Plymouth would understand our modern-day Thanksgiving, with our packed airports, jammed highways and Black Friday sales. On the note of Black Friday, in particular, as a previous retail worker, please be kind to one another. Many of the employees you interact with had to leave their own families early to be at the store to set up around 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. In my personal experience, in college, I once worked an 18-hour shift, all night, without any breaks at an unnamed department store on Black Friday. Granted, I had to work a double because my replacement didn’t show up at sunrise, but still, please be kind and understanding to retail workers if you go out shopping on Black Friday.
Moving past my grudge against Black Friday, but under the same umbrella of being kind to one another, I would love to celebrate what I am thankful for this year on Thanksgiving instead of worrying about traveling, sales, work, etc. The whole holiday has taken a few steps away from its origins. In fact, I would love to re-instigate the periodic days of thanksgiving throughout the year, but I do not have that kind of power. However, if everyone who reads this column takes a little more time to be grateful daily, maybe we could start.
— Contact Emily Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @BDTrice