There are a number of reasons why one might have misgivings about Thanksgiving Day, but as with most North American holidays, we tend to go along with them, and we’re not really conscious as to why. Most of us don’t know much about the real roots of these celebrations and have little interest in them beyond partying, receiving presents and stuffing ourselves with delicious food. Where did the idea of putting ourselves in a communal food coma every fall originate?
It’s obvious that this holiday is celebrated at this time of year because of the fall harvest. It’s a time of reaping what we’ve sown and enjoying the earth’s natural bounty with gratitude and (hopefully) good company. For many households, this means women slaving over a massive turkey and all the trimmings, while men do whatever it is they do on a crisp fall day. Some are actually doing domestic chores themselves, or in these modern times, might even be preparing the food themselves. There are few things sexier than a man who can cook.
For some religious folks, it’s a hyper-version of breaking the bread and saying grace. But whatever or whoever you credit for your Thanksgiving feast, there’s something worth noting about traditions in North America: we do them purely out of habit. We just kind of bluff our way through it, and when it’s all finished, we can barely move. I suppose for those living in rural settings, on or near farms and natural landscapes, have a deeper appreciation for the significance of a ritual autumn meal. It’s certainly about being thankful for all the wonderful food from the fields that have been tended so carefully. It’s also about the changing of the seasons, and acknowledging the coming cold months with a hot, rich meal.
We all depend on agriculture for survival, but some are more aware of this than others – especially societies who lead subsistence lifestyles and live off the land. Pagans and indigenous peoples have always marked the equinoxes as particularly special times. In honouring the earth’s natural cycles, we honour life itself. When the days become longer, we begin to focus our energy outwardly. When the days become shorter and the temperature cools, this is a time for taking stock and focusing our energies inwardly. Since we’re spending less time outdoors, we can spend more time enjoying our domestic lives, doing things around the house, spending more time on hobbies, watching movies, reading – it’s a way of celebrating the hearth and appreciating that as the sun shines, so must the moon. It’s about balance.
These are things I’ll be thinking about as I prepare and enjoy my Thanksgiving dinner this Monday. After all, autumn is my favourite season!