Thanksgiving’s early message still relevant
Thanksgiving is America's holiday. It is a day grounded in our religious, social and civic history.
But like other holidays, Thanksgiving's roots can be traced to early rites that recede into prehistory. At bottom, Thanksgiving's roots are in the traditional harvest feast -- a rite celebrated near universally. All such observations give thanks to the bounty of the past growing season and encourage revelers to pack on a few pounds against the uncertainty of the coming winter.
Such was the case in 1621 when William Bedford invited the Wampanoag Indians to join the Pilgrims for a feast to celebrate Plymouth Colony's first harvest after the disastrous first winter. What made it special was the Pilgrims' sincerity and we can only believe their gratitude for the Wampanoag's role in their survival (the Wampanoags' motives for helping might not have been altogether altruistic; they viewed the colonists as potential allies against adversarial tribes).
Much has been made in recent years of the tragic turn that relationships took and its foreshadowing of the 250-year conflict between European settlers and Native Americans. We prefer to view Thanksgiving as a symbol of the better side of human nature and the hope that different peoples can share the richness of the earth if we approach each other through understanding, cooperation and generosity.
As we enjoy a four-day holiday now infused with traditions of family gatherings, parades, holiday lighting ceremonies, turkey and dressing, and football that message has not lost its importance.