The more I ponder the Thanksgiving holiday, the more confused I become! What’s the true origin story? Where is it recognized? Why do we celebrate? What does it all mean? . . .
Growing up in the United States, I came to know Thanksgiving as a day to consume vast quantities of food with all my relatives who lived near me that I was still talking to, just before falling asleep on the couch to the sounds of football on television. For many, if not most, Americans it’s not viewed as a highly religious day, but rather a day to appreciate the good things we have in life.
But that’s not the case around the world! In fact, few countries actually recognize what North Americans would consider “Thanksgiving Day.” Its reach is limited—whereas Christmas is celebrated around the world by those who either practice the Christian faith or have been influenced by Western culture. And in countries where Thanksgiving Day is celebrated, it is not exclusively on the fourth Thursday of November, as we’ve come to expect in the U.S. Canada, for example, sets aside the second Monday of October!
As I grew older, and my worldview expanded, even my understanding of Thanksgiving’s origins got really mixed up. I was taught it was all about pilgrims and Indians forming friendships and eating together. Nope! Much like the celebration date, each country that does observe Thanksgiving has its own origin story, too.
The further I look into the histories, the more I learn new names: like Martin Frobisher—an English explorer who celebrated in what became known as Nunavut, Canada. Or Francisco Vasquez de Coronado—a Spanish explorer who spent time in Mexico but celebrated Thanksgiving somewhere in what is now modern-day Texas. Good grief! How am I supposed to keep up?
This year, I turned 70 years old, and you’d think I’d have all this figured out by now—but no. I’ve barely scratched the surface on the depth of history, culture, and tradition around what’s always just been a “customary holiday.” And while understanding all the details, stories, origins, and practices worldwide may be complicated, there is a simple theme that transcends every difference . . . the survival of a perilous journey, adventure, or season, resulting in deep gratitude and appreciation of what truly matters.
I do believe this year qualifies as another year of perilous times, regardless of the country you live in. Truth is, we’ve seen more in the past three years than many have seen in a lifetime. And yet, even when the familiar things, our comforts, are stripped away—or when it all just seems like too much—we can give thanks to the Creator of the universe for giving us another year to . .
Try and get it right.
Find the good in others.
Seek common ground in one another.
Share peace, kindness, and civility.
Fight for justice with compassion and love.
And put God’s heart for the world on display.
So, this year, however you celebrate, be sure to break out the good stuff—whatever you consider that to be . . . turkey, fish, even eggplant! And whether you’re with family or dining alone, I hope you set aside some time to reflect on the truth that despite the perilous journey, you are a survivor.
May your holiday be filled with gratitude, and thank you for being a part of what is right with the world!