Today in the United States is a day set aside for individuals and families to reflect on their blessings and give thanks. History.com provides the following short history of the so-called “first Thanksgiving” in America.
“In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America. Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged ‘Thanksgiving’ to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record. Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time. The legacy of thanks, and particularly of the feast, have survived the centuries as people throughout the United States gather family, friends, and enormous amounts of food for their yearly Thanksgiving meal.”
Many cultures throughout history and around the globe have held (or hold) festivals celebrating the harvest and almost all of them are accompanied by a spirit of thanksgiving. This season will find many individuals and families struggling to find things for which to be grateful. The financial crisis has taken a serious toll on the blessings business. The irony of the situation is that this might be the most important time to have a grateful heart. One historian wrote:
“Prosperity has left its blessings. The table is laden with plenty. There is meat in the larder and grain in the storehouse. Because of these things, [we] imagine [we] are grateful, but such gratitude is the essence of selfishness. It is dependent upon exterior conditions. It finds its basis in circumstances. It draws its inspiration from clear skies and smooth sailing, and hence it is fitful and evanescent as the alterations of sunlight and shadow. If these conditions of personal comfort and prosperity are in themselves the ground of thankfulness, where in the hour of adversity shall we find the occasion for rejoicing? The record of the past has the graver side. There have been pain and losses and disappointments and bereavements and heartaches. Where in these things is there reason and ground for gratitude? Has the empty larder, the bare table, the desolate home, the vacant chair, the fresh mound in the cemetery, no place for thanksgiving? Ah, here is the point of stumbling with an earnest soul. We find in the bitter chill of adversity the true test of our gratitude and that is true gratitude which triumphing over conditions, merely physical and external, finds its ground of thankfulness in God himself. It is independent of circumstances. It goes beneath the surface of life, whether sad or joyous, and founds itself upon God.”
Regardless of whether you have a belief in God, the underlying point remains profound. A gratitude attitude makes life a richer experience, even during dark times. A person with a gratitude attitude has a much better chance of pulling him- or herself out of adverse situations because they are more resilient. Whatever your personal circumstances, I hope you find something for which to be grateful. If you have a difficult time doing so, I recommend you go out and find someone to serve. In the service of others, we have our best chance of finding gratitude in our hearts. Happy Thanksgiving.