Going to work on a holiday
We all know the story of Thanksgiving — of Pilgrims and Wampanoag uncomfortably coming together to share a harvest feast of turkey, bountifully hunted in the wild.
Truth is, it probably wasn’t turkey. It far more likely was goose or duck. And that was just the Pilgrims’ contribution to the potluck. Indians contributed venison, fish, shellfish, eels, and — without question — beer.
The resulting, largely drunken affair featured rowdy races and random firing of guns into the air but also achieved its true objective in helping cement a peace treaty that lasted for decades.
Thanksgiving always has featured a coming together to heal wounds, though it didn’t become a national affair until the Continental Congress proclaimed a day of thanks after the enactment of the Constitution.
The event soon became mired in politics, however. States, particularly in the South, objected to the federal government imposing a New England tradition, especially one thought to have religious overtones at a time when government was supposed to stay out of religion.
It wasn’t until the Civil War, after the South seceded, that Thanksgiving became an annual, national holiday — focused not so much on giving thanks as on bringing the nation back together.
Even then it remained a subject of political intrigue. Normally celebrated on the last (either fourth or fifth) Thursday in November, the holiday became part of a ploy to boost the economy when Franklin Roosevelt tried to move it to the third Thursday to extend the Christmas shopping season. After much debate, the fourth Thursday was adopted as a compromise in 1941.
The date remains randomly selected. Years ago, the same holiday, based on the same tradition, was fixed by Canada as occurring on the first Monday in October, more in keeping with the supposed original goal of being a harvest festival.
All of which is to say there’s no mysticism behind the day of thanks we celebrate this week. Like most things good and pure, it has had to endure a history much less pure than the spirit it attempts to celebrate.
The one thing that has remained constant throughout the history is Thanksgiving is not just a time to cocoon with family and friends, root for favorite teams, and thank whatever deity you personally believe in for whatever personally has been given to you.
Historically, Thanksgiving has been a time of unity — of coming together, friend and foe alike, to celebrate shared values and shared bounty and build a shared future far brighter than the recent past.
It is a time to put aside differences and a unite for the common good — a goal more important, perhaps, in this divisive year than in most.
Rather than merely basking in food, family, football, and faith, perhaps we need to roll up our sleeves and start working to bridge the chasms that separate us, whether they be in the city chambers of Peabody and Florence, the meeting room of the county commission, the hallways of the Capitol in Topeka, or inside the Beltway of Washington, D.C.
Taking time to make even modest attempts to understand, appreciate, and accommodate views we increasingly revile as polar opposites of our own, just as the Pilgrims and Wampanoag did nearly four centuries ago may mean that next year we will have much more to be thankful for.
— ERIC MEYER
Last modified Nov. 20, 2018