Most Americans think Thanksgiving is uniquely American.
This common thought is perplexing given most Americans debate the definition of what being an American actually is, or should be.
But this being America details are always debatable, depending on where one comes from. Take for example this commonly lost one: Thanksgiving celebrations have occurred throughout centuries, across continents in countless communal gatherings of gratitude. Much as we Americans like to own rights to the tradition, we actually don’t.
Most Americans associate Thanksgiving with pre-colonized Plymouth, Massachusetts. After a bitter winter killed unprepared Pilgrims, Native Americans donated food to the pilgrims and taught them to hunt and fish. A year later, after a bountiful harvest including fish and game, the groups engaged in a three-day celebration.
Their leaders joined hands in gratitude for food provided by the earth, the gifts of their labors and the common cause of caring for each other during hard times.
Which points up another oft-overlooked detail: the feast doubled as a preparation against future-famine, a shared effort to stock up on food for another brutally cold season.
Of course, there’s debate this communing of such previously inhospitable communities clearly struggling to share a common place was really the first in America.
Some say because Native Americans and Pilgrims didn’t dub the event Thanksgiving, it wasn’t. For their part, many Native Americans don’t celebrate the holiday, to remember their ancestors who not only were not invited in advance, but many of whom were not fed at it.
Some give George Washington credit for proclaiming Thanksgiving Day after he became president. Others note President Abraham Lincoln was the one who officially established Thanksgiving as a national holiday, to unify the country divided by the brutality of the Civil War.
Still others point out journalist Sarah Josepha Hale should get the thanks, due to her pestering Lincoln for it with her one-woman campaign to stop the bitter, brutal killings war wrought.
Another lost detail: Hale had already made her heartfelt appeal to four previous presidents.
In any case, much of the essence of Thanksgiving has remained stable. It is a rare example of an American civic tradition that has stayed mostly, but not entirely, true to its original meaning throughout the centuries.
Regardless perspective, all American’s agree Thanksgiving is about gathering with others to share and express gratitude. To share non-monetary gifts of self, not to sort, separate or squander individualized bounties on superficial stuff.
It requires no visit to the Mall. No seasonal candy or non-seasonal candy packaged in seasonally themed bags needed. No fireworks, flags, streamers. No noise-makers, themed t-shirts, hats or, er, boxer-shorts to be bought.
It requires only gathering and replicating this tradition our forefathers and mothers set. To remind us of each other, the rich gifts our shared wealth can represent and, which if shared, result in more.
Stuffed hearts, not sparring turkeys
This highly symbolic tradition has the potential to stuff not only turkeys, but, also bipartisan Americans—filling both our bellies and, maybe most important, our hearts.
Bellies that, separated by non-common circumstances suffer, either too empty—or far too full. And hearts that too often suffer in isolation, hardened and separated by non-common superficialities.
Even, yes, hearts that harbor debatable if not inhospitable perspectives that lead them to fight like undomesticated turkeys, or, well you know.
Staving off civic famine
Come to think of it, stuffed turkeys serve up a rich metaphor usually lost in the telling of Thanksgiving history. Of the shared preparations Native Americans and Pilgrims in Plymouth taught us. Which is that stuffed bellies, be it the turkeys or ours, can be a powerful symbol–and outcome–of our common cause.
That to survive the civic famine we’ve set up for our country, we must all belly up to the table.
We must transcend our differences by stopping the bitter debates, transforming our wealth of diverse gifts and dedicating them to co-producing our future fates: the posterity of our shared country, America.
We can start by making cross-partisan, cross-country preparations to give us all something to be thankful for next year. Including unthawed hearts warmed-up for our common good.