Certainly, the idea we associate with Thanksgiving is abundance. For our large gatherings, we prepare much more food than we can possibly eat at one sitting. People take second (or third) helpings, putting off their diets for the sake of the festival.
Even before the Pilgrims and further to the north, there was a service of Thanksgiving in 1578 led by pirate/explorer Martin Frobisher giving gratitude to God for his care and provision after a dangerous voyage in search of the Arctic Northwest Passage. This Thanksgiving, which did not occur in October or November, was focused upon protection rather than harvest.
I wonder sometimes if we are missing some of the context of these first North American Thanksgivings. Consider the following:
- Records from Martin Frobisher's ships show that each week his crew would receive meat on four days and no meat on the other three. The other rations on board included flour, oats, dried beans and biscuits. One would imagine that any Thanksgiving meal accompanying the first Canadian Thanksgiving in 1578 would not have been a lavish affair.
- The fact that turkey was served at the first American Thanksgiving was not due to marketing or people saving up for weeks to purchase such an expensive type of poultry. Turkey was part of the menu because wild turkeys were abundant in the place where the Pilgrims and Natives were living. They could easily hunt them, and the meat was tasty. In that same spirit (choosing something for my Thanksgiving menu simply because it is abundant), I intend to find a way to elevate kale. Just today, we harvest four "trees" of it from our vegetable garden. (See photo)
- Both of these original Thanksgiving events were not about a nebulous feeling of gratitude one stirred up once a year. They were part of a daily lifestyle of giving God the credit for any blessings that come our way. Thanksgiving needs to be directed somewhere: any celebration that is missing the element of acknowledging God's role in our lives will fall short of the true meaning of the holy-day.
- The first celebrants of Thanksgiving had experienced difficulties most of us could only imagine. Frobisher and his crew daily faced hostile weather and were far from home and family, and yet they could celebrate. The Pilgrims had survived one year in the new world, but many of their number had succumbed to disease and starvation. We do not celebrate Thanksgiving only if everything in our lives is going well. We celebrate it even though there are really difficult things in our lives.