A Reflection on the Spirit of Thanksgiving

As the cloud of emotions from last week’s election starts to clear, we begin to move into the holiday season. No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, we can all agree that the past few weeks, even the past few months, have taken a lot out of us. This election has been draining for everyone. It has been hateful, and it has been emotional. The negativity that has been seeping from supporters of both the Republican and Democratic parties has taken over my thoughts these past two weeks. I see it as I scroll through social media. I hear it in people’s conversations as I pass by. Among my friends, it’s all anyone wants to discuss, and these discussions are never without strong emotion. Everyone needs time to process this event and to wrestle with feelings of excitement, fear, or disappointment. However, I am ready for a change, and I am hoping to find positivity in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving comes around7183 every year, but what is Thanksgiving all about? In elementary school, I was taught that Thanksgiving was a meal that was shared between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. This meal is celebrated because the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims grow their first harvest in the New World. We did not learn the name of the tribe who partook in the meal or why Thanksgiving became a national holiday. Instead, we made turkeys out of colored paper and our smeared thumbprints, while teachers discussed why we should be thankful for our families, our classmates, and our education.

As I grew older, I stopped making turkeys, but my middle and high school conversations about Thanksgiving remained much the same. We completely missed the importance of the historical context of Thanksgiving.

The Wampanoag nation let pilgrims into their territory and onto their land when they arrived on the Mayflower. What’s more, they generously showed the pilgrims how and what to plant for each season (Peters, “Rethinking the Way”). Ramona Peters, a historic preservation officer for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, states that the pilgrims’ first harvest was celebrated by shooting off “cannons and muskets […], which drew attention” from the Wampanoag. Instead of the peaceful dinner that we learn about in school, Wampanoag warriors arrived uninvited to check out the chaos. According to Robert Tracy McKenzie, a professor of history at Wheaton College, the celebration in 1621 was a normal harvest festival; it only received the title of the “first Thanksgiving” in 1863 (“Rethinking the Way”). The Thanksgiving holiday that we grew up learning about was not actually Thanksgiving at all.

After the Civil War, Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday. President Lincoln used this story of the acts of kindness from the Wampanoag to try to mend the divide between the North and the South (Peters, “Rethinking the Way”). Today, we are also a divided country, split between two parties. No matter what your opinion may be, if we can all accept the reality of our situation then we can begin to move toward peace, acceptance, and gratitude. As Peters states, “we should all be proud that our country has a national holiday centered upon simply being thankful.” Thanksgiving was created as a holiday to unite people in times of extreme conflict, and it can once again be used to reunite a nation. download

Today, I realize that Thanksgiving is not at all about good food or a story about a harvest; it’s about bringing people from all walks of life together for a common purpose. It’s about looking at the world around us and discovering the truth. It’s about accepting all people despite their differences, backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions. Thanksgiving is about seeing that, even in the midst of turmoil, we are lucky. This holiday is not just about expressing love for our families and friends; instead, it is about showing kindness toward all people, which is something we should strive to do every day. On Thanksgiving let’s forget who voted for whom and love people as people. Let’s forget about our differences as we travel through this maze of life together. We can always find the good and positive aspects in our lives. What we put into the world, we can take out of it. Let’s decide to put love into the world and act with kindness toward those around us. Thanksgiving is one day, but let’s be thankful and kind all 365 days of the year.

Storrie, Esther, Ramona Peters, Richard Pickering, Robert McKenzie, and Yatibaey Evans. “Rethinking the Way We Teach Thanksgiving.” The Opinion Pages. New York Times, 25 Nov. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/11/25/rethinking-the-way-we-teach-thanksgiving/a-national-holiday-to-simply-express-thanks Accessed 21 Nov. 2016.


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