11.22.11 This Thanksgiving, don’t forget to say thanks. No, really. Because with the planes, trains, and automobiles on Wednesday, the turkey and football on Thursday, and the retail frenzy of Black Friday, it may be hard to get a quiet minute, much less make the connection that we are celebrating the bounty of the American continent.
Whether you believe in the Charlie Brown version of the first Plymouth Thanksgiving, in which Squanto taught the blunderbuss-toting Pilgrims to sow corn with fish, or you recognize, with a touch of cynicism, that the first official Thanksgiving was called for by Abe Lincoln in 1863, during the Civil War, the American-ness of the holiday is undeniable.
We share a traditional repast, cooking the continent’s quintessential indigenous game bird, incorporating traditions from our immigrant pasts and our New World antecedents. Depending on how recently your family has arrived, you may have a meal directly from the mother country, or you may have only a last symbolic dish left on the table––in my family it’s sauerkraut cooked with the turkey neck, a nod to Lithuania.
Remember the sorrow built into the holiday, also. Because in giving thanks for the abundance of the continent, we acknowledge its first stewards: the native peoples, who are the other 1 percent, reduced to poverty in stark corners of the landscape as the last vestiges of the languages they used to name the rocks, the trees, and the animals slip silently into the vast gulf of history. If we are new immigrants, we acknowledge our homes over the sea and the people we left behind.
As a country we are not much for apology, or for looking back, which is why saying thanks is so important. In a culture that celebrates the self-made man, myth of all myths, you cannot give thanks without looking around the table at the people who have made you what you are and without a quick glimpse over your shoulder.
And then there’s the land, which we share in common, in spite of the fence lines, and which is glorious.––Giles Morris