An American Explains Thanksgiving

It’s about more than just eating your bodyweight in turkey.

As an American overseas, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about Thanksgiving. What is it? What are you celebrating? What do you do to celebrate it? I’m going to try and answer some of those questions. Keep in mind, everyone who went to school in the US heard the Thanksgiving story every year growing up, so it’s like second nature to us.

The story of the holiday is simple: on the third Thursday of November, we celebrate that the pilgrims survived the winter in Plymouth. Not very meaningful, if you don’t know the context. Essentially, the pilgrims were a group of puritans, radical Christians kicked out of England in 1620, who set sail for North America in a ship called the Mayflower. The puritans, being devout but not very good sailors, landed in Massachusetts, far north of Virginia, where they intended to settle.

Photo: Millersville University

The first winter was disastrous: almost half of 102 original pilgrims died of disease and starvation. By the spring, the pilgrims made contact with friendly locals, most notably a man named Squanto, who helped them learn the best ways to farm in their new home. That fall, after the first successful harvest, the pilgrims had a feast of thanksgiving and friendship with their new Amerindian friends to celebrate. Of course, American history doesn’t go well for the Amerindians, who are swiftly removed from their land and slaughtered. But the story of the Mayflower and the friendly Squanto has lived on and ingrained itself in the American popular conscious.

Now, Thanksgiving is mainly celebrated as a feast with family and friends. The menu is similar to Christmas here: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing. Pumpkin pie is the traditional dessert. The more interesting part of Thanksgiving for me, though, isn’t the meal. Thanksgiving, as is obvious from its name, is a time to give thanks. This isn’t something that comes easily and naturally to us in our day to day lives. Sure, it’s easy to say thank you when someone holds the door, or write a thank you note for a birthday gift. But to really stop and consider the things that we have and be truly grateful for the day to day things we take for granted is not easy to do.

Photo: The Fellowship

This year, I’m thankful for so many things. I’m thankful that I get to come to this University. I’m thankful for all the friends that I’ve made, and the wonderful people I’ve met. As much as I love to complain about it, I’m thankful for the university food and housing. I’m thankful for Pablos and Dervish on a night out.

One day a year isn’t enough time to stop and reflect on all of the features of our lives for which we should be grateful. It isn’t easy to take the time to really consider the amazing people and things around us, and gratefulness can easily fall by the wayside under the onslaught of pressure and responsibilities. Let Thanksgiving be the one day a year that we’re aware of the incredible gifts we’re given, and I know that I, for one, will try and take that thankfulness with me for the rest of the year.

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581 thoughts on “An American Explains Thanksgiving

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