The Meaning of Thanksgiving–and Symbols

November 21, 2006

A History Channel
show last night on the history of thanksgiving help provide a new appreciation for this national holiday and the meaning of symbols. Thanksgiving has probably been the favorite holiday in our family with all the kids (now grandkids), grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts all gathering for a big feast and a relaxing day. Behind all the celebrations and expressions of thanksgiving lies a picture of that first thanksgiving where the Puritans shared a feast with their Indian neighbors. And that picture is rich with meaning, complex, contradictory. I found it most interesting to learn that a young widow by the name of Hale made it a life work of hers to get Thanksgiving declared a national holiday. The reason behind this passion was the recognition that the nation was being torn apart in the mid 1800s around the issue of slavery. The woman believed, very correctly, that this unique American experience, rooted in history, transformed by myth and legend, had power to unify. It is interesting that Pres Lincoln, just months after the horrific bloodletting at Gettysburg, acted on Mrs. Hale’s idea and proclaimed the first national day of thanksgiving.

It is unifying. It is rich and meaningful. It does help to make us a people with a shared experience and shared consciousness of what is important. And if it helps make us just a bit more grateful for the undeserved blessings that we daily enjoy, that is a good thing too. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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