Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

When I was in elementary school, I was always perplexed during November when the teacher would always present the annual "Thanksgiving Day" lesson about Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. I was always puzzled at the traditional picture of the Pilgrims, and why they needed buckles on their hats. I remember the teacher, already frazzled by hyper kids ready to go home for a long Thanksgiving weekend, never appreciated my persistent curiosity.

As it turns out, there is a lot in the traditional Thanksgiving story that modern historians believe to be out of place and actually apocryphal. The Pilgrims probably didn't call themselves Pilgrims and almost certainly didn't wear buckles because staunch Calvinist Puritans frowned on showy fashion accessories like buckles as vanity. Likewise, the “Pilgrims” at that first Thanksgiving dinner did not likely eat Turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce in some field somewhere, as they were still living largely on the Mayflower because the town settlement had not been built yet.

Likewise, I have some Native American friends who do not care for the Thanksgiving holiday, for they see it as a day that annually serves as an eerie harbinger of the disastrous things that would come after it in the sad history of this nation's relationship to the Native Americans. In fact, the Wampanoag tribe that Squanto, one of the principle characters in the traditional Thanksgiving story, belonged to was subsequently wiped out by diseases the Pilgrims brought.I think it is important for us as Christians and for us as American citizens to deal with the fact that the world we live in, and the social fabric which we as a people have created, is a broken place.

We have grand hopes that often fall far short of what God would have us to be. The catechism in the back of the prayerbook teaches us that the Communion of Saints "is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” Therein, I believe, is the beauty of hope in the image of the traditional Thanksgiving Day story.I very much like the traditional story of Thanksgiving, apocryphal though some of it may be, because I believe that story offers Christians a time to reflect on the meaning of giving thanks in a world our forebearers made imperfect. Maybe the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving is not the way it really happened, but that image can be an icon of the way it should have been and will be again one day.

The image of the first Thanksgiving should serve as a reflection of that Great Banquet to which we as Christians are invited, for the word Eucharist itself means Thanksgiving.Though the ideals of the original Thanksgiving fell upon the bayonet of American history, let us give thanks this Thanksgiving Day not just for the food we eat but for a God who, in the words of the Prayerbook " takes away the arrogance and hatred which infects our hearts; and breaks down the walls that separate us" in that Great Banquet where we can all come together, as equals, free from hate and strife and prejudice. That is indeed something for which to be thankful.

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