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Meaning Of Thanksgiving

November 26, 2015

In the United States there is a great deal of hustle and bustle in preparation this week for one of my favorite holidays – Thanksgiving! As a Taurus, I of course love all the foods associated with this eating extravagance, but I also appreciate the hard work and gratitude my country’s Pilgrims, Europeans leaving their homeland to seek a different life, showed for their new rugged homeland and for the people who were the original settlers of America, the Native American Indian; who without whose help my country’s ancestors would never have survived. This act of kindness, without fear, and the gratitude that extends from that gesture is what Thanksgiving is meant to represent.

My country was founded by new people making a home in a new land. It is strange in today’s political environment, especially in the United States where a lot of talk lately has been focused on excluding certain individuals from entering our borders. What if the Indians had shot at us or let us starve when we touched their shores instead of extending a hand and knowledge on how to survive within the confines of tough New England. Our country’s outcome may have been very different.

Thanksgiving is about family and our communities which can become our extended family; this was the case for the new land seeking Pilgrims. A location to call home, a place to start again – and the Native Americans extended that helping hand so they could. And tough going it was. 46 out of the original 102 pilgrims perished within a year of arrival. Only 5 women survived the first winter encountered by the settlers. The celebration of Thanksgiving did not happen until the following fall by which time things would have been looking particularly bleak for the new comers if the Native Americans had not offered their survival insight.

It is truly amazing the fortitude and will we can tap into when we want to make a new life for ourselves. When we want to express our own viewpoints, be our own person, our heart and spirit can be mighty brave. This human element is part of the Thanksgiving story. After three months at sea, aiming for the mouth of the Hudson River located in what is now New York the Pilgrims missed their mark by several hundred miles to land on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in December of 1620. It was extremely cold and nasty weather when they set anchor off their new home land.

I can only imagine what the Native Americans were thinking as they saw their ship off shore. One can only imagine what they felt in their hearts as they watched almost half of the new arrivals perish that first winter for a variety of reasons; but mostly by being unprepared for the realities of a New England winter. The Native American is known as a wilderness survivalist and fierce warrior but what could they be feeling in their hearts for these newcomers dying every day. They opened their arms and lines of communications to help.

Surprisingly to the Pilgrims, when the Native Americans did make contact they did so in English with a tribe member named Squanto of the Pawtuxet, who as a young man was captured by an English Sea Captain and sold into slavery in Spain. Thankfully he returns to North America and uses his language skills to help the Pilgrims. He teaches the Pilgrims to hunt and fish, which foods were edible and how to plant a harvest to survive a winter. The outcome is our country’s first feast of Thanksgiving. History’s ugly twist reveals in Squanto, how kind and brave the human heart can be at the deepest levels of forgiveness.

Many cultures celebrate different versions of their own Thanksgiving when they commemorate the fall harvest and prepare for winter. This act of gratitude or giving thanks for observing the bounty supplied by summer’s growth ensuring a community’s survival can be found around the world. Understandably, the Pilgrims after what they experienced were ready for a festive occasion and they proceeded to celebrate for three days of eating and hunting in honor of their first successful harvest.

Sadly and ironic, the next time my country men and women gather to give their thanks is in 1676 to mark their victories over the Native Americans in the area.  We continue to do this style of giving of thanks with our win over the English monarchy and it is during our own Civil War that United States President Abraham Lincoln declares Thanksgiving as an official holiday as a means to unite his battle torn country. I am sure there are some Native Americans who wish their ancestors acted differently in light of how our settlers, years later went on treat them but does that diminish the act of bravery and kindness their relatives showed to these new arrivals? No, it proves heart can and should overcome anything we perceive as fear and uncertainty; this is when our gratitude acts out in its greatest form.

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