In honor of Thanksgiving, I will dedicate this week’s blog posts to the holiday. Today I will answer the question which has been asked by my Tico friends, “Why Do Gringos Celebrate Thanksgiving?” Later this week, I will blog about gratitude including how to to cultivate this seemingly lost virtue within ourselves and our children.
The Answer Taught In Schools
We all remember the story from elementary school.….. In September 1620, the Mayflower, carrying the Pilgrims from England, landed in the new world near Cape Cod, much further north than their intended destination. These lost passengers were mostly religious outcasts on the fringes of English society. Approximately half of them died that first year due to cold, hunger, and infectious diseases while they lived aboard the anchored ship. In the spring, the survivors moved on shore to what they called Plymouth Rock, where they met a friendly group of Native Americans, including Squanto, who spoke English. He taught them how to survive off the land by farming corn, hunting, fishing, and harvesting sap for maple syrup. As a result of Squanto’s generosity, the Pilgrims had a successful harvest in the fall of 1621. They invited Squanto and other Native American friends to celebrate the first “Thanksgiving” by sharing in a bountiful feast of wild turkey, corn, potatoes, and other staples from their gardens. After multiple incarnations of the holiday were observed at the state and national level, Thanksgiving became a federally-recognized holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November since 1941.
Through the years, many American traditions have become synonymous with Thanksgiving celebrations including big, bountiful meals with friends and family; turkey; football (American!); and parades. The day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, is usually the day the Christmas shopping season. A huge part of Thanksgiving celebration is planning strategies to get the best Black Friday sales!
….So this is the nicely packaged story you can tell your Tico or other non-American friends about the origins of Thanksgiving. The truth behind the sweet story of the Pilgrims, though, is not as tied up in a pretty bow as our teachers taught us.
The Answer That Is Most Accurate
The reality of the history of the Thanksgiving holiday is a bit more controversial. Separating myth from reality is difficult, and the opinions on its origins range from the bitter to the political. The less dogmatic sources agree that the celebration we know as Thanksgiving was initially a harvest celebration, did not likely include many of the dishes we associate with it, and predated the 1621 feast. The relationship between the Pilgrims and the local Native American tribes has also been a cause for debate, to the point that the United American Indians of New England celebrate “National Day of Mourning” on Thanksgiving Day.
The Answer Within My Heart
I love Thanksgiving. Despite its questionable origins, I think any holiday that celebrates family, food, and gratitude, should be at the forefront of our traditions. Since we got married, Chris and I have spent Thanksgiving with my side of the family and Christmas belongs to his side. The holiday has been a very important part of my adult life as my sisters and I have gone our separate ways. Thanksgiving is the one time of the year we are all together and are able to share our time, food, resources, stories, and culinary skills. We all participate in the cooking. Except in the year 2005, our feast always includes a turkey (provided and roasted by someone other than me), but all other dishes are vegetarian (including the stuffing!) so that starvation is not an issue for those of us who do not eat meat. I have tried to promote a 100% vegetarian Thanksgiving without the turkey, but unfortunately my family will not yield. They all tell me that in 2005, the year I hosted a vegetarian Thanksgiving, they all ate turkey the next day without me. Maybe someday I can convince them….
Every year, my mother, sisters, and I promise we will make less food and spend less time cooking but that never works. There are so many dishes we want to share and enjoy! We also talk, fight, play board games, drink lots of wine, and of course eat a whole lot of food. You have not lived until you have played Taboo while inebriated. We always go around the table saying what we are thankful for. We have even filmed two short movies starring the kids during Thanksgiving. Because of work, school, finances, and time, it is hard for all of us to get together. But no matter what, we always found our way home at the end of November. In addition to the context of family, I love Thanksgiving because of its focus on expressing gratitude for the bounty in our lives. While I am grateful on a daily basis for the blessings in my life, Thanksgiving allows me to reflect on the “big picture” treasures that have been bestowed on me, and provides an avenue to share them with my family.
For the first time in my adult life, I am not celebrating Thanksgiving with my family this year because we now live in Costa Rica. We used to get the whole week off. Now, the kids only get a half-day on Thursday and the full day on Friday off. We have something special planned for the long weekend, but it will be a very different experience than our typical celebration. While I am sad that I am not going to celebrate Thanksgiving with my extended family this year, I will still be giving thanks for all the good things that have happened in my life since moving to Costa Rica. And I look forward to my family visiting this December!
Why do you celebrate Thanksgiving? What are some of your favorite traditions? Let me know in the comments below.
- 50 Million Reasons to NOT Eat Turkey this Thanksgiving (onegreenplanet.org)
- Thanksgiving around the World. (auburndesignstudio.wordpress.com)