Of all American holidays, both religious and secular, Thanksgiving is perhaps the simplest, the most humble, the most truly “American” in nature.
The first celebration in this nation’s history, it was founded in gratitude.
When the Pilgrims sat down at their Plymouth Colony to offer gratitude for divine favors received, they were thankful largely for one thing: They had survived their first year in an inhospitable wilderness.
We’ve come a long way since then, and even this day of giving thanks has evolved.
The cynics among us might point to Thanksgiving as being the most truly American of holidays for how it represents the worst of us: For many, it’s a celebration of gluttony, lounging in front of the TV and greedily seeking the best deal on electronics or other much-hyped extravagancies.
But for many others, it represents the best, a time for thanks, and giving. It’s a time when many in our region and elsewhere strive ardently to ensure none among us go hungry, a time when many donate time, money or goods to those whose resources are more limited than our own. It’s a time to reflect on how much we truly have.
In the centuries since that first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, successive generations of Americans have created and maintained one of the most stable and free societies on Earth. We are free to live where we please, work where we please, travel where we please, speak out as we please, worship as we please — or not worship — if that is what we please.
But there can be no freedom without individual obligation. Americans have always had to struggle with economic, racial and ethnic injustices, with ignorance and intolerance, with the challenge of living in harmony with the rest of the world, with nations that have their own historical traditions and points of pride. Those struggles continue on all fronts today.
We celebrate all that we have in resources. For those of us lucky enough to have them, that may mean the roof over our heads, the ability to pay our bills, the plentiful food on the table, the kinship of family and friends and our ability to connect with them at will, through travel or telecommunications.
But all these things rely on that basic gift of freedom. It is our nation’s most precious commodity.
So the day is representative of the worst, but also the best, just as it was in Plymouth centuries ago: having endured the worst of times made celebrating their survival the best of times.
There’s a lesson for us all in that endurance, and in being grateful for what you have, rather than resentful for what you don’t.