The moral of Thanksgiving

Once upon a time, the Pilgrims and Native Americans got together for a big fiesta. They ate venison and corn, pumpkins and nuts and delicacies until they were full, giving thanks for a great year together. And that’s how it all started.

But this week my daughter was reading a children’s book about what happened before the beginning of that story. She read about the long winter, the freezing temperatures, the illness, the death. She read that the Pilgrims would slip out into the deep night to bury their dead. They didn’t want the Americans to know how few of them were left.

In the spring, when Samoset and Squanto appeared and scared them half to death (half of them had already died, so I’m telling it to you straight), the Pilgrim’s fears turned out to be unfounded. Instead of bringing terror and destruction, the Native Americans brought vegetable seeds, earth knowledge, sturdy friendship.

Everyone says the moral of Thanksgiving is to be thankful. And it is. The Pilgrims took a deep breath and said, “We made it. Look at this harvest, we’ve stored up what we need for next winter, and we give thanks to God.” But I can’t help thinking about that first dark winter, and the poverty of isolation, the shivering widows standing at the graves of their babies under a chilly moon. God forbid that someone finds out we’re not doing okay. Please, God, don’t let them see us. I’ll just put another shovelful of dirt on top. I’ll wrap my tatters around a weakened body and slip back to my ship in the darkness.

That breaks me.

The Native Americans probably had a hard winter too – I’m not saying they were over there in the wigwams lolling in salted deer meat and corn flour. But they had the wisdom the Pilgrims needed, if the Pilgrims hadn’t been trying so hard not to need it.

Another moral of Thanksgiving, the one we don’t talk about, is this: Stop hiding in the darkness.

Take steps of faith through the night to the wigwam next door and sit down by the fire. We can spend so much time planning our militia that we forget the neighbors are not planning an attack. Incredibly, miraculously, friends are out there waiting: not to pounce and scalp, but to teach, to assist, to care. To help.

That is cause for the best Thanksgiving.


If you’re game, tell me three things you’re thankful for today, including one friend you know you can go to when the venison runs out. This has two purposes: it grows your gratitude, and as a bonus, it helps me to know if the bugs are worked out of my comment section before I offer you another gift on Friday. For this, I am grateful to you. We have every reason for joy: Happy Thanksgiving, dear people.

Holiday traditions

If you sat down to a dinner something like this in the last few days, you are among the most financially wealthy people in the world.

Thanksgiving dinner

salad and roll

As am I.

Sometimes it almost seems like a sin, feasting so much—in a way that has nothing to do with whether or not I overeat. But I remember the feasts built into God’s laws from the earliest days, and I know that whatever simplicity may be called for in ordinary living, and however joyfully He invites us to share our abundance with the less fortunate, He loves when we celebrate His good gifts together.

This brings me a lot of joy.

I like holidays steeped in tradition. Our Thanksgiving dinners are with my parents, and seldom vary: turkey, stuffing, both sweet potatoes and mashed, cranberries, and pumpkin pie (not to mention the vegetable sides). The day after, I dig boxes out of storage and decorate the house for the Christmas season. I’ve seen a lot of facebook pictures of lovely and costly decorating, and sometimes I really wish I were that kind of a person. My Christmas decorations come mostly from the woods.

berries in stoneware jug

Scrabble word Immanuel

Pine boughs, red berries, birds’ nests (I can take photographs that make them look artsy, but sometimes they look tacky, even to me)… and a few carefully-stored treasures.

The Nativity scene for babies, bought at a craft fair by my Aunt Rhonda several years ago. It will win no prizes for beauty, but little hands love these people…

wooden Nativity

And the jeweled Nativity, which Kelly arranges and rearranges and adds to, with her best matchbox Minnie Car and a bobblehead named James, so that they can worship as well…

porcelain Nativity

And the Baby Jesus doll, best beloved, in the manger my husband and son built together. He is sleeping on a crocheted dresser scarf for now, to be quite honest with you, until I can get outside to cut some dried grasses.

baby Jesus doll

Did you know that you can buy a baby doll for five dollars, and cut him some swaddling clothes and a hat from white fleece? Kelly loves this Baby with all her heart, and looks forward to him year after year.

We like to add a pair of baby boy shoes somewhere—in fact, one pair has been sitting in my living room for a year now because I never had the heart to take them down. I’ll soon be making Party Mix and Buckeyes, and perhaps we’ll do our Advent of Quiet again this year. These are the traditions.

And then there are the surprises. Such as coffee grounds leaking all over my pot. And kindness in unexpected places. And fostering twists and turns. And my dog’s astonishing Black Friday gift to me: puppies.

puppy paws

I have no idea how she managed this, since she does not exactly hang out with other dogs, nor how I missed all the signs. Does this kind of thing happen to normal people? I’m naming the darlings Shades of Evening–partly for their coloring and partly for their uncanny arrival. Midnight, Twilight, Starlight, Dusk, Gloaming, and Sunset. I have two thoughts: What a dumb time of year for this, and How utterly adorable!

newborn puppy

I invite you to celebrate both tradition and surprise this season (this is me forcing an Important Lesson Out of Nothing)… but, however you celebrate, don’t forget—this month-long ecstatic exhausting Jubilee is all about a baby. He was small and messy and helpless. Put Him in your children’s hands. Welcome Him. Cherish Him. Touch Him.

Baby Jesus' hand

God with us.

*****

Your turn! What do the children in your life love best about Christmas? What early-season traditions does your family enjoy?