The calendar finds us, once again, in the month of November, when the inexorable march toward the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving feasts across the land. Anecdotal evidence suggests this traditional celebration is perhaps the most popular of all our national holidays. Absent the onerous shopping spree of its December neighbor, and the sobering day of self-assessment and resolve at year end, Thanksgiving is the purest of commemorations. A day singularly devoted to the joys of decadent consumption in communion with those dearest in our lives.
A time of lazy indulgence (unless you find yourself the cook), a brief respite from the ever-increasing demands of modern life. It was the only day of the year, as the columnist Art Buchwald once quipped, when Americans ate better than the French.
It is believed that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The 50 surviving Mayflower Pilgrims, in the company of 90 native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe, enjoyed a feast in common gratitude for nature’s abundance and the cooperation between their two groups
which had brought it to their tables. Fol- lowing the Revolution, President George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide Thanksgiving celebration. Abraham Lincoln, seeking to unite a divided nation in 1863, designated the date on which all states were to mark the observance. In 1941, FDR declared Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated annually on the fourth Thursday of November.
In these times of all too rapid change, when we worry whether the meaning in many of our traditions has been lost or misconstrued, it’s comforting to glance at the calendar and see a recognizable friend, Thanksgiving.
I urge you to take just a moment during your family gathering this year to close your eyes. Listen to the sounds of laughter and the expressions of love all around you. Smell the aromas as familiar to you as any on earth – roasted turkey, pumpkin pie – and know that this celebration, at least, signifies today precisely what it did 395 years ago — our deepest, heartfelt gratitude for our human community and the bountiful yield of our planet.