Thanksgiving Is About Gratitude
by Mary Pat MacKenzie
November in the north has always been a serious month. For generations poets have described the darkness of the days and the forlorn look of the denuded trees. The sun may be lowest in December but November’s short days feel darker and bleaker. It is the month when we fulfill our most important duty as citizens as we elect our political leaders and it is the time when we remember past wars and the valiant warriors who gave their lives for our freedom. Then, just when it seems unbearably depressing, along comes Thanksgiving to lighten our psyches – if not our waistlines.
Though now held on the 4th Thursday of November the celebration held by the Pilgrims and their Wampanoag guests occurred in October 1621 marking the success of their first harvest. It lasted over three days and would have included fish and venison as well as local “fowls”, vegetables and fruits. Here in New England we think of Thanksgiving as “our” holiday and our gift to the country but in fact countries all over the world, even China, have fall harvest feasts known as Thanksgiving. The first North American Thanksgiving was actually held in Newfoundland (Canada) in 1578, decades before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth.
Various regions of the country celebrated their own local Thanksgiving holidays throughout the fall until 1863 when President Lincoln decided American Thanksgiving would be celebrated at the end of November. Six years later, as a result of a football game played in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Day in 1869, football was linked to the holiday. Shopping became part of the festivities in 1939 when President Roosevelt, to boost the economy at the end of the Depression, moved the date to the fourth Thursday in November. Hence, the holiday shopping season officially begins the next day on “Black Friday”.
It is the linking of football, shopping and Thanksgiving that I find so disquieting in the American tradition and one that I plan to ignore this year. It should not be a terribly hard task because we have wonderful friends who for years have included our family at their annual “feast”. Over the decades that we have shared turkey and stuffing we have watched our children grow up and a whole new generation join the table. It is the warmth of the conversation and the remembered stories (like the year the table gave way in the middle and miraculously the kids grabbed all the food and dishes before they hit the floor) that make the Thanksgiving feast so special.
Gratitude for the blessings of a good harvest was the original guiding force for Thanksgiving and I think it may be time to return to a stronger focus on the feast, our friends and giving thanks. I am sure the Pilgrims shared stories of the awful winter they had survived just as we share our stories with family and friends. Let us really listen to those stories this year, let us laugh together and enjoy each others’ company.
It is 2019 and we know there are regional, religious and political differences across our nation but, still, we all benefit from a vast network of citizens working for the greater communal good. Volunteers in every town and state give of their time, talent and treasure to enhance all of our lives. From the coaches who teach our kids soccer or baseball, to the volunteers at our public libraries and the men and women who work at electoral polling stations or run for local office we are better off for having their service. There are kids in every town who help their senior neighbors put out their trash just as there are seniors who help out in the public schools.
Without an army of volunteers our town, Falmouth, would come to a grinding halt. The Falmouth Road Race, the Senior Center, the Service Center, Town Committees, the Churches, Friends of the Falmouth Public Library, Around the Table, the Farmers’ Market, Town Band, VIPS, Friends of Falmouth Dogs, People for Cats, Museums on the Green, the Woods Hole Film Festival, the Red Cross, Engage Falmouth, the United Way, Arts Falmouth, Neighborhood Falmouth are just a few of the groups who rely on volunteers to make our town a better place. We owe each and every one of them a debt of gratitude.
I may never actually watch a football game (I did go to one in November 1972) and shopping on Black Friday in 1989 gave me a panic attack so those Thanksgiving rituals will never be on my radar but I am planning to spend November being grateful. Between baking and cleaning for the feast on November 28, let’s say “Thank you” to as many of our fellow citizens as we can. Gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving.
Mary Pat MacKenzie is a volunteer and a member of the board of directors of Neighborhood Falmouth.