The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Thanksgiving reflections: A harvest meal and hope for peace

Posted by Ron George on November 20, 2015

Peace of Earth: Thanksgiving is a cosmic reminder of our vulnerable place in the universe. (NASA photo, Apollo 8)

Peace on Earth: Thanksgiving is a cosmic reminder of our vulnerable place in the universe. (NASA photo, Apollo 8)

[This post originally appeared as a newspaper column in the Corpus Christi Times on Nov. 25, 1986.]

Christmas you can keep, but I’ll take Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a harvest festival, a celebration in appreciation of the great turnings and motions of the Earth, of the comings and goings of wind, rain and sunlight, and of humanity’s cunning and diligence in bringing sustenance from the soil.

Typically, our culture has homogenized the holiday, mythologized it to some extent (which is not all bad) and, as usual, commercialized it as much as possible.

But beneath all the twaddle about Pilgrims and the glitz and blitz of the holiday shopping season, there is a strong and true impulse to respond to the natural order of things with a feast of the fruits of the Earth.

That, after all, is what the Pilgrims did. They didn’t any more celebrate the first Thanksgiving than burn the first witch. They simply continued a tradition far more ancient than either Christianity or Judaism, that of the fall harvest festival.

That they did so is important to remember, but Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday because of that intolerant lot of religious fanatics. Nor is it because Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the so-called “holiday season,” which American merchants and consumers have conspired to make into a feeding frenzy at the malls.

I’ll concede that there’s nothing new about religious festivals being cause for increased economic activity. That’s universal. Comes with the territory.

But I’m fed up with Christmas because dignity and elegance are no longer attached to the giving of gifts. We give too much. We expect too much. We’re almost always disappointed and emotionally exhausted by the afternoon of Dec. 25.

In other words, there is little opportunity for giving thanks on Christmas Day. It’s very much like asking a drowning man to be thankful for a drink of water.

The harvest festival is not so easily exploited. Its central symbol is that of the meal, not a sleigh full of toys. We participate simply by preparing the meal and eating it, not by purchasing the affection and loyalty of loved ones by meeting outrageous expectations for gifts.

I’ve lived in cities and towns all my life. Thanksgiving is an annual reminder that there are deep rhythms at work, far from the gridded town, that make urban life possible.

Thanksgiving helps me remember that I am dependent upon a lot of people I’ll never know, whose labors I purchase with every head of lettuce, without whom my money would be worthless as a means of filling my stomach.

Thanksgiving calls to mind the extravagant yet delicate balance of nature and those electrifying images first given to the twentieth century of Earth suspended in black space, illuminated by the Sun, the only star of billions in the universe, close enough to provide sufficient light and heat for life to flourish.

Thanksgiving is a tapestry of memories, of smells and feelings, of nostalgia for the old, the good and the true, of that sense of wellbeing called happiness that has more to do with the quality of what one thinks than how one feels.

Thanksgiving partakes of the sense of security for which humans hope as winter approaches, the desire for all to be well and satisfied, warm and safe. It is a hope that dilates from the family hearth into the surrounding community, the nation and the world.

Peace on Earth” is said to be the message of Christmas, but it’s so hard to hear let alone believe amid the clutter and clatter of holiday shopping.

I prefer to hear it now, before the noise begins.


One Response to “Thanksgiving reflections: A harvest meal and hope for peace”

  1. Patsy Durham said

    That was 1986. Things are much, much different now. Today we have little to be thankful for and much to dread. I awaken each morning wondering what new horrific massacre will invade my home when my husband turns on the TV morning news. The only thankfulness is a very selfish one that it wasn’t one of MY loved ones who died overnight, and I am ashamed to be thankful for that when I see so much heartbreak.

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