Thanksgiving is a festival much celebrated throughout the world. Indeed, I first attended thanksgiving services as soon as I was able to walk to a pew, taking babes in arms into churches for anything other than christenings being frowned upon. The festivals purpose was to give thanks for the completion of a successful harvest, a most important event in rural communities, but equally enthusiastically celebrated in town and city with parties and official events involving not only places of worship, but also schools and workplaces. There was even a strident tradition for the display of very particular decorations, mainly involving loaves of bread, sheaves of ripe corn and wheat, vegetable, fruit and grape baskets, kegs of ales and ciders, a true cornucopia of plentifulness.
The version of Thanksgiving celebrated in the United States and ancillary territories is of course entirely of a different form. Whilst no doubt the original pilgrims might have been inclined to continue the tradition they had experienced both in East Anglia and the Netherlands, the different growing season and varieties of produce available in the new world made any real comparative continuance nothing more than habitual. The celebration took a philosophical rather than practical turn, becoming a day of thanks for imagined esoteric gifts, like religious and social freedoms. I say imagined because of course the pilgrims, puritans, quakers, had no real interest in real freedoms or worship or lifestyle, rather they simply wanted to be able to act according to their very particular strict principles, without interference or contradiction from anyone else. Not liking the rules of the game they effectively picked up their ball and took themselves to their own playing field as distant from everyone else as was humanly practical.
The Thanksgiving gathering of today has little resemblance to the early sixteen twenties, the thanks throw to the four winds of even less similarity. Much is made today of national pride and character, thankfulness in the face of a benevolent ‘American’ Creator, concepts wholly alien to the Pilgrim fathers, whose thankfulness would have had more to do with survival, the hope for a full belly, avoidance of murder and mayhem from a rapidly affronted indigenous population, whom had all too quickly perceived the unfortunate glint of conquest and oppression manifest in the new arrivals eyes.
Apart from thanksgiving, my childhood was filled with a plethora of festivals, celebratory days, endless anniversaries. Empire Day, India day, Ceylon day, Ghana day, New Zealand day, on and on, ad infinitum. Every act of conquest, moment of oppression, claim or ownership, superiority, elitism, required recognition, as if by placing a date upon the calendar acts of abhorrent disregard of human rights or just plain humanity could be ignored indefinitely. The United Kingdom, by way of revolt, enforcement, enlightenment, has been obliged to amend its ways. Celebrations of imperialism, cultural engineering, racism, are aggressively wiped from the collective memory, correctly jettisoned to the waste heap of unacceptable historical happenstance.
Today, this thanksgiving, please just celebrate a successful harvest.