For the hay and the corn and the wheat that is reaped,
For the labor well done, and the barns that are heaped,
For the sun and the dew and the sweet honeycomb,
For the rose and the song and the harvest brought home --
For the trade and the skill and the wealth in our land,
For the cunning and strength of the workingman's hand,
For the good that our artists and poets have taught,
For the friendship that hope and affection have brought --
For the homes that with purest affection are blest,
For the season of plenty and well-deserved rest,
For our country extending from sea unto sea;
The land that is known as the "Land of the Free" --
For me, Thanksgiving shall always refer back to the "first Thanksgiving"in 1621 in among the pilgrims, on Cape Cod. I know it was not first and it really was not a Thanksgiving feast for the pilgrims.) This "one of" community feast has taken on mythic significance meaning. I don't know why Canadians concede this event to the Americans, since as part of British North American we have a shared history.
Reading all about this Thanksgiving feast in Governor Bradford's Journal has always inspired me. How this small band of people, who were down to less than 50 souls, having lost more than half there number in the first year and who had a meager first harvest felt obliged to have a community three day feast with their aboriginal neighbours. In reality, the natives brought most of the meat, venison. So it was a pot-luck kind of affair. It would be a couple of years before successfull farming and hunting would seen abundance of food. The pilgrims would have fasted and prayed, as was their custom, before having a Thanksgiving meal.
For me, the real significance of this meal is that two peoples who were strangers had become friends. The natives, who could have easily have driven the strangers from their lands instead welcomed them and help them survive by teaching them to farm and locate edible plants and game that would come to sustain them and help their colony thrive. The natives, Massasoit and Squanto, who had learned some English from fishermen, who visited their shores, were there to greet the strangers and offer succour. It is a bittersweet historic event in the light if the genocidal events that scar the history of European settlement of North American. But for a moment in time we have a memory of how we should be with one another. I like to think Canada learned this lesson which has seen us develop into a country if immigrant communities that celebrate our differences in a rich multicultural mosaic.
My best memories of Thanksgiving are those of Thanksgiving meals shared in the home of American friends, when I lived in New England, in the region of that first community feast. For Americans Thanksgiving is a National celebration that I see as more important to them than Christmas or Easter. As a less commercialized holiday it is part of the historic myths that define them as a nation. I was always welcomed as "the stranger". I was not really a stranger but my friends knew I was far from family so they graciously added me to theirs. If course, there was alway the wonderful food, with its delicious smells and tastes and textures and colours. More important there was genuine fellowship and affection. These Thanksgivings fill my memory and enrich my life. While the food for my body is just memory, the food for my soul continues to nourish me.
This year I shall eat alone. The food I will prepare for myself will not be the traditional fare. I am planning lamb and perhaps some moose, with potatoes and carrots and pickles. All this is food grown, gathered and prepared by me. I think I may try to make a squash pie with the butter nut squash. I will use my good dishes and set an extra place to remind me of "the stranger". It will not be a joyous holiday for me but not one without meaning over which I shall remember Thanksgivings past.