Wednesday, November 25, 2009
It seems as if there is no holiday that happens this time of the year that doesn’t come with it’s share of controversy, especially Thanksgiving. The myth of early English/Native American relations at the Plymouth settlement may have wrapped itself around the Thankgiving holiday in the United States, but it isn’t origin of the holiday. If we look deeper we can find more than the cultural conflicts that work to separate us and find those things which draw us together.
Thanksgiving is essentially a harvest festival and those have existed as long as man has been actively cultivating the earth. The Canaanites and Phoenicians celebrated their harvest. The Egyptians celebrated in Spring with sorrowful displays as they wept and moaned while cutting down their corn, believing it necessary to show remorse for taking the “spirits” they believed lived in the corn. The Greeks honored Demeter with their multi-day celebrations. Much of the celebrations within the temples of Demeter were kept secret. Many scholars believe they involved “fertility rights” that may have been shocking even by Greek standards. The Romans thanked Ceres, Demeter’s alter-ego, in the festival of Cerelia in early October.
Native American tribes generally had multiple celebrations throughout the year depending on where they lived. Many Eastern tribes celebrated the Green Corn Festival when the first of the corn was ready to be harvested. The Harvest Moon festival in October rejoiced in the last of the harvest of the Three Sisters (beans, squash and corn)—the spirits of the earth whose gifts kept The People fed. Plains tribes celebrated the harvests, but also the movements of the herd animals.
In Africa, Asia, Europe and the New World we have celebrated the glories of the Earth’s abundance no matter who we thank for that bounty. With the economy the way it is, it is easy for us to lose ourselves in what we do not have and forget to be happy with what we do have. And in these times it is perhaps even more important that we take this time to be grateful for what we have.