On Pilgrims, Lincoln and 30 days of gratitude

FEATURE – Let’s go back, way, way back to that very first Thanksgiving. You know the one where the pilgrims of Plymouth and the Native Americans gathered together, friendship and cornucopias overflowing to celebrate a bounteous harvest and the blessings of peace and health? That one?

Well at least that is what I was told in grade school and if the paper pilgrim costume my son brought home and Colonial recreations my children participated in are any indication, then that romanticized tableau still persists in the education system.

It is important to note at this point that I am not an historian – I chose to study English because grammar rarely disappoints me – so forgive me if I am wrong but it seems safe to say that the very first Thanksgiving meal was not the turkey coma-inducing love fest we imagine it to be.

Being November and too cold to plant crops, the earliest gathering was probably more of a bring-what-you-can-glad-we-are-not-dead type of deal.

Although in subsequent years the colonists did celebrate a feast of the harvest like unto the ones celebrated in their native England, it was always more about survival than outright gratitude. But again, I am no historian.

What I do know about Thanksgiving as an American holiday is that it has its roots in the American Civil War. In October of 1863 after a pivotal Union Army victory, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the fourth Thursday of November should be set aside as a day of Thanksgiving.

In a beautiful speech written by then Secretary of State William Seward, Lincoln exhorted the citizens of the United States to offer “Thanksgiving and Praise to the Almighty God” for preserving their nation even in the midst of a civil war:

In the midst of a civil war of all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that had been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

Leave it to Lincoln to see the silver lining.

But that is enough history. Let’s move on to something I have a firmer grasp of … social media.

In the age of selfies and memes, and quizzes guaranteed to tell you what Disney princess you are and what ’80s hair band song should be your life’s soundtrack there persists one challenge that I am genuinely happy to participate in.

Every November I join friends and strangers alike in the “30 Days of Gratitude” challenge, writing one thing each day that I am grateful for.

It is a social experiment in humility, gratitude and positivity. I have done it for three years straight now and my posts have ranged from the simple to the sublime.

Here are a few examples of my daily gratitude:

“I think I say this every year but I am grateful for chips and salsa! Mmmm, good!”

“Grateful for the bite in the air and the smell of home fires burning. I am grateful for changing light and seasons. I am grateful for short, amber colored days and long, dark nights filled with stars and wisps of white breath.”

“Can I just be grateful I made it to the end of this day?”

“Grateful for the diverse and truly amazing people I have met in my life. Near or far, well-known or recent friend, you fill my life with interest, laughter, happiness, knowledge and fun. May you be so lucky in your lives to have such a great group of people in it.”

It is not always easy, some days it is just plain hard. Some days are filled with loneliness and trials, sickness and sadness. Some days anger or anxiety threaten to overtake all and it becomes really difficult to find the good and the grateful in me.

But then I remember, I didn’t come to America on a ship and watch my companions die or try to scratch out a living in a harsh new land. I didn’t try to keep a nation together while watching my own family fall to death and insanity.

I’ve never even had to fight for my own rights or freedoms, but others have, and to them I am truly grateful.

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