This week we are preparing for Thanksgiving. There is a lot of shopping and cooking in the next few days --but there are also emotional preparations to be undertaken this week. Like many, you may be torn between the happy anticipation of a good meal and seeing family, but also the dread of family feuds that leave you wishing to hide in a corner of the living room.
Along with the usual “issues” that each family faces around the turkey table—the in-laws, sibling rivalries, and adolescents with attitude—we can stir in some raw feelings about national politics and a debate on the economy. It’s Thanksgiving in the REAL America and nobody’s very happy.
So many of us so want it to be the other Thanksgiving, the one we imagine that other families have, but which really only happens in made-for-TV movies. WE think that Thanksgiving’s just not what it used to be-- But then again, it never was.
It seems that we can’t shake our romantic idea about that first one with the grateful Pilgrims and the wise Indians, but it’s safe to say that most of us wouldn’t have been comfortable at that dinner either. The truth is that the Pilgrims, with their cute buckled shoes, weren’t innocent refugees from persecution. Rather they were religious zealots and not exactly tolerant.
Here’s the history: After the Protestant Reformation and the split from Catholicism—creating the Church of England--there were many who felt the church still needed to be “purified” of Rome’s influence. Those were the Puritans. Among the Puritans were some folks who were even more extreme and who wanted complete separation. These were the Separatists--we know them as the Pilgrims. These were not folks who believed in freedom of religion. What the Pilgrims believed was that the Church of England was corrupt, that Catholics were the Devil’s spawn and that they were superior in knowing God’s truth.
We still have some emotional resonance of those ancestors and their vibe is with us at Thanksgiving. So be prepared.
Part of the problem is that religion permeates this day directly or indirectly; someone or something is being thanked for the good in our lives, but there are political tripwires from the stuffing all the way through to dessert. Most of us will be sharing a meal with folks who not only mix their potatoes with their peas but who mix politics with their religion: Every current event, everything in the headlines--war, terrorism, same-sex marriage, the war and the Middle East—touches religion in some way. And that intersection of religion and current affairs will cut right through the dining room table on Thursday.
Even saying grace is tricky. When the blessing includes a prayer for peace someone at the table will be listening for what kind of peace? Do you mean Get-out-of-Afghanistan peace or the bomb them into submission kind?
On Thursday we may be humming, “We gather together…” but in our heart of hearts we want to insist that OUR team should win, that OUR recipe for stuffing is the best, and that OUR candidate was right.
So if you find yourself dreading the doorbell, or if Uncle Harvey mentions the President when he says grace, you may want to retreat to the kid’s table or sit in the den to watch the game. But Instead, give thanks that this holiday comes only once a year, and remember--- it’s all in the spirit of the day.