Last year, I had the most wonderful Thanksgiving. DH and I had decided to forego family obligations (you know, the agonizing decision over which side of the family we would eat with for the holiday, or if instead we were going to host both sides at once at our house so no one could be jealous. . . ) and we declared we would be staying home without hosting anyone.
Horrors!! You would have thought we were just the most awful people ever. And our relatives pretty much told us so without using those exact words. But at this little place here, it was a nice, calm, thankful day. We had a good meal, to serve five instead of 15-20. The house was quiet, not chaotic with multiple conversations going at once, each trying to drown out the other. The under-eighteen set was well-behaved, not bouncing off the walls or picking fights with each other. We ate. We talked. We went deer hunting. We relaxed. It was, truly, a day of thoughts that dwelt on how good we have it; how blessed we are and how much we love the people we were with.
In contrast, this year we gave in to the familial pressure and invited both DH's side and mine to attend. And immediately had to justify the time of day we'd chosen to serve the meal. (1:30 p.m.) Why so early? Because DD1 and her boyfriend wanted to be able to attend both our Thanksgiving dinner, and the one his family was having 3 hours away, that's why. After all, the only reason DH and I gave in was to make it easier to for the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to all see both of our college kids who would be home on break. No "how come I didn't get to see him but his other grandma/aunt/cousin did?!?" This was a decision we made in September after being told numerous times by numerous relatives: "make sure I get a chance to see DS2 and DD1 when they are home for Thanksgiving".
This Thanksgiving it was pretty much impossible to relax or even have a thankful attitude. Not when you're doing your best to be hospitable and give everyone an equal chance at the holiday, yet everyone is complaining at you. And half of the relatives who "had" to see the two college kids on their short break didn't even come!! Then there was the relative who said "what can I bring? Rolls? I'd like to bring rolls. I'll bring rolls."and showed up without the rolls she'd insisted I didn't need to make because she would bring them (and several others asked me during the meal "how come you didn't serve rolls? Rolls would have been good.") How about the under-eighteen relative who was abusing the furniture in a way my own kids would never dream of, yet his parents were offended when he was told to stop by a cousin (one of my kids).
It definitely was not relaxing, and I don't think any of the inhabitants of this little place here had a single thought about how blessed we are to have the relatives we do.
Anyway, the day before Thanksgiving, as DD1, DD2, DS2 and I were baking pies and cleaning the house in preparation for hosting relatives on Thanksgiving Day, we got a little punchy while discussing the situation and the pressures we were getting from our kin. The discussion, begun by the 19 year old engineering student, was about the real reason for having Thanksgiving, and how most people don't seem to get it anymore. How Thanksgiving is not about driving for hours to eat with relatives that you don't bother to see any other time of the year but holidays. The 18 year old college freshman who aspires to be a Christian school teacher added that Thanksgiving is about being grateful to God for what you have. And the 15 year old high schooler, with amazing mature insight, said that Thanksgiving, which should be a time of celebration, is more often looked upon with dread.
It was after that we began to get punchy, imagining if the first Thanksgiving had gone something like this:
Mercy and Hope are at Plymouth, looking around at the bountiful harvest of food that they grew in their gardens that year.
Mercy says, with brow furrowed, "what in the heck am I going to do with all these pumpkins? The kids hate pumpkin."
Hope replies, "My pumpkins did well too, and so did my sweet potatoes. I wish sweet potatoes stored as long as pumpkins do; if they did we wouldn't have to eat them all up so fast. I can only make so many variations of sweet potato for dinner. Dear husband William is getting sick of them."
Mercy gets a bright idea. "We ought to have a big party. I'll bake some of these pumpkins into pies. You cook up a bunch of your sweet potatoes and bring those. We'll invite all the residents of Plymouth. Everyone can bring something; and we'll have a potluck. I hear that John Smith is good at hunting turkey, maybe he'll bring a few. I love turkey."
Hope smiles. "That's a great idea! I'll see if Patience is willing to make a bunch of corn bread. Her corn field was loaded this year and she has tons of corn waiting to be ground and used."
Hope goes off to start talking to the other wives of Plymouth and get this party in the works.
Meanwhile, Mercy tells her husband, Bartholomew, what they have planned. He agrees it's a wonderful idea, as he is rather tired of pumpkin and loves sweet potatoes and corn bread. Plus, he's lousy at turkey hunting and would love to eat some.
Later that day Bartholomew bumps into the minister of the colony, with whom he shares the news of the upcoming feast. Reverend Holierthanthou puts in his two cents, reminding the man that without God's providence, there would not be an abundance of corn, pumpkins, sweet potatoes or any of the other bumper crops the pilgrims experienced.
As Reverend Holierthanthou gets involved with the planning of the feast, it becomes not just a party given as a way of using up the foods certain wives have more of than they personally want to eat, it becomes a religious festival. And the guest list grows.
Mercy and Hope meet up the next afternoon, after all the colony have been informed of the big meal coming up on Thursday.
"Can you believe it?" Mercy says in annoyance. "Holierthanthou says it wasn't my green thumb that made all those pumpkins grow, it was God. Now we have to say a prayer at our party, giving thanks to the man upstairs for my pumpkins. As if I wasn't the one who planted them, weeded and watered them, harvested and stored them and now cooked them into pies so Holierthanthou can have dessert!"
"I know!" Hope huffed. "Not only that, but we have to invite those dang Indians who gave us food last winter when we were all starving to death. I don't even like them! Their clothes are so unfashionable, and they let their children run wild! But no, we have to invite them to our party and be polite. Ugh."
Mercy rolls her eyes. "I wanted to have Aunt Prudence and Uncle Thurlough over, but they can't make it. I mean, yeah, it's a long boat ride from England, but it's Thanksgiving! What could be more important to them than coming to eat with me that day?"
The big day rolls around, and all the pilgrims and Indians gather to eat the meal together. Several Indian women pick at the turkey the pilgrim women prepared, the squaws commenting to each other that they can cook turkey better than the white women can. Uncle Isaac sits next to Uncle Moses, each trying to outdo the other with loud boasts about how he can chop wood better than the other man can. Aunts Priscilla and Constance look at their children running around and bicker over which sister has the worst behaved children. Everyone has fake smiles on their faces as they either endure inane conversation, outright bragging, or barely veiled barbs aimed their way. Children whine about being bored and wanting to go home, no they don't like stuffing, and why can't they have a fourth piece of pie?
The feast is such a disaster and so unenjoyable that the pilgrims decide to never repeat it again.
Nope, I don't think that's how Thanksgiving originated, with grumbling and one-upping, and grudges held against relatives who couldn't make it at that day and time for the meal. Why in the world would we have continued it for almost 400 years if it had? The dilemma for many of us is how to change it back, from it's modern day obligation, to it's founding principal of community, fellowship and gratefulness for the health and food that we have.
I haven't figured out how to accomplish that yet.