I have come to believe that Thanksgiving Day as the American holiday. I know most people would rather focus on July 4th – Independence Day. I agree Independence Day is a major holiday to be celebrated. Thanksgiving Day tells us more about who we are.
The Plymouth Colony was the first attempt on this continent to build a decidedly Christian community. Ultimately the attempt failed. But, it was what was learned there that was so important. The Christian concept of love thy neighbor as thyself was finally seen to be a universal idea. The Wampanoag people did not have Christian scriptures, ritual, or theology. Their spirituality allowed them to help people on what they thought of as cursed land. The Pilgrims found what they sought. Neighbors who would allow them to live out their faith in peace. The later Puritan colony of Massachusetts Bay which engulfed Plymouth colony was not interested in peace on such terms. They decided on control and conformity rather than freedom for themselves and their neighbors.
Plymouth was a colony where the believers never actually settled their own creed. “Strangers” were welcome without any desire to compel them into something they did not wish. Hardship was shared. Commitment to lives of faith made it possible so no child died during the first winter of the colony. An openness to learning how to live and to even change practices so a community could be preserved were part of the pilgrim ethic. It was not a perfect place. But, sixty years of peace reigned.
Thanksgiving Day is not complete without the story of “the first thanksgiving.” The story points to ideals that Americans can all share – feasting with enough, neighborliness, helpfulness, and freedom. What could be more American? Thanksgiving Day reminds us of dreams among hardship, the pioneering spirit, and what we could be.