A friend showed me this pretty funny meme the other day, inadvertently stoking this fire of reflection around Thanksgiving happening in my mind over the past week.
This Thanksgiving season has provided more opportunity for reflection than any other I have experienced so far (outside of the 1st Thanksgiving after my mom passed).
Now, I don’t want to bore you with all of my musings, but I also didn’t want to throw up some generic 4 Steps to A Happy Thanksgiving blog article because... aren’t there enough already?
Here are some reflections and thoughts that not only are rarely discussed openly at the table but have been echoed by my wider community and individuals in my practice...
>> In light of the many shifts politically, socially and emotionally over the past few months, depending on where you stand, Thanksgiving holiday may feel a bit... disingenuous (some may say hypocritical)
>> Major holidays have a way of stirring up things up in family dynamics - and for many, Thanksgiving is a dreaded time where confrontation with others seems inevitable
>> For those journeying with chronic illness, unhealthy relationships with food, or food restrictions for various reasons (by choice, lifestyle, for health), Thanksgiving can heighten anxiety or worry around “willpower”, judgement, and physical/emotional well-being
>> What the heck did the Plymouth Pilgrims and Wampanoag people really eat during that initial 3-day long feast we now commemorate? And what is the real history behind Thanksgiving anyway? We have a tendency (as does any nation) of romanticizing and mythologizing historical events, so what’s the real dish?
Needless to say, each of these can be a blog article on their own (or chapter in a book). As I thought about each of these, I continued to be drawn to the history of how it all started - thinking maybe there are clues or pearls of wisdom we can walk away with this season. What better way to start unraveling these themes than to go back to the root of where it all began?
I’m no historian and my research is admittedly amateur and brief, but here’s what I found in my dive into the history of the first “Thanksgiving” and some lessons that are relevant today...
In the fall of 1621, two groups of very different people came together to share food and celebrate the first harvest of the new kids on the block.
The Wampanoag people, who had occupied the land for thousands of years, were integral to the survival of those first settlers, the Plymouth pilgrims. The reason these two groups decided to come together over those 3 days is unknown - historical documentation of this event relies on salvaged accounts and descriptions told by participants of this feast 400 years ago. But the act of celebrating bounty and expressing gratitude in various ways after harvest was a common practice in both European and Native American cultures.
What made this moment unique was the peaceful and collaborative coming together of two groups that differed in lineage, ancestry, religion, color, beliefs, culture, and language. In a time of adversity and new frontiers, they decided to explore unity rather than separatism and animosity.
If they can do it, maybe... just maybe you can suspend differences for a moment and share a meal with Uncle “anti-everything-you-believe-in” Bob after all.
It was a potluck - and venison was a main dish.
The native Wampanoag traveled by foot to the pilgrims and brought with them 5 deer. There was also a plethora of seafood (an important staple for that region), wild fowl including turkey (of course), quail and duck, native “Indian” corn (this ain’t your hybridized corn of today), the harvested goods (not specified outside of corn) and most likely wild berries and foraged mushroom and plants.
Food was not only sustenance and survival, it represented community, collaboration, acceptance and love. They didn’t have the luxury (or need) of fighting over paleo vs vegan, or counting how many calories they’re consuming. Food was natural, local, wild, seasonal and organic without having to be certified. It was something to be shared and celebrated, not vilified and feared. Admittedly we live in a very different world, but food is still woven into the fabric of our ancestry and livelihood. Unfortunately our relationship to it has been distorted in so many ways.
Putting food restrictions, dogma, preferences, or worries aside - what are some ways you can (1) rebuild that sense of love, acceptance and collaboration with food, and (2) weave that into your offering to the greater community? Guarantee this will nourish your soul as well as belly.
Despite adversity, there was a lot to be grateful for.
Letters found from pilgrims describing this event are full of expressions of gratitude for the bounty and relations with their native neighbors. They were new to the land, small in number (around 50) and successfully surviving (and thriving) in this particular harvest season - with the help of the natives, they were able to literally enjoy the fruits of their labor.
In a modern era in which we are extremely disconnected from the web of life and where our food comes from, it’s no wonder that gratitude - sensed in this profoundly experienced way of our ancestors - can be difficult to embody and understand.
Compare the intimacy of working all season with your sweat, blood and tears, dirt under your fingernails, and cultivating your future sustenance - with buying a box of stuffing and Cool Whip for your store bought pumpkin pie... There usually isn’t even curiosity about what is in the packaged food! Where did it come from? Who made it? What did it take for that product to get to those store shelves and into your kitchen? What will it do in your body?
If it’s too difficult to reach a sense of gratitude for your life, family or those in it, then perhaps start by cultivating a gracious awareness of the food on your plate.
This peaceful and symbiotic existence between the groups lasted for about 10 years.
That was until thousands of other settlers arrived bringing with them new diseases that decimated the native population, and extremist ideologies that fed the already growing tension between natives and settlers over beliefs, land and resources.
Nothing is permanent. As a nation we have evolved with political, cultural, racial and religious strife. Ironically, as a nation of mostly immigrants, we have an instilled “fear of other” that impedes our growth and transformation.
When confronted with limited resources and irreconcilable differences (sound familiar?) - we have a choice.
We can let the fear and anxiety consume us, leading to inevitable destruction of other, and of self in the process....
OR we can see differences and diversity as gifts to be explored and leveraged.
We can choose to be open and compassionate enough to see our universal desires (i.e. survival, acknowledgement and love), and work together in a way that nourishes us all.
Whether or not you celebrate Thanksgiving - whether you feel excitement and joy this season, or dread, anxiety and overwhelm - know that in every moment you always have a choice. What will you choose?
Blessings, love and nourishment to you this season and every day,