Perspective is a funny thing. Sometimes, I have to step far away from a situation to gain clarity. Yesterday afternoon, I jumped on a plane to “escape” Thanksgiving holiday in America. By choice and by chance, this has not been a big family holiday for me, over the years. And to be honest, it seems like any real consideration of Thanksgiving has been overshadowed by the seemingly endless frenzy around Black Friday deals and schemes. No longer are retailers satisfied with a national holiday on Thursday and throngs of shoppers on Friday—nope, they want people to start shopping before the turkey is digested.
As I was on the plane preparing to arrive in the Motherland (well, actually it was the Fatherland since I had a connecting flight in Munich), I pondered the question, “Do other countries celebrate thanksgiving?” I chatted up my seatmate, a lawyer who was South African by birth, now married to a German, and living in New York. She shrugged her shoulders. In my haze I knew that Canada celebrates an autumn harvest festival in October that they call Thanksgiving. Although some Canadians I know seem to dismiss it as a not-very-important holiday. (Ironically, I always remember it as it falls on the U.S. Columbus Day holiday.)
In some down time today, I noodled around the internet to see that there are a few other places that have this kind of harvest celebration ranging from far-flung Asian countries to Liberia. And, indeed, the Jewish celebration of the New Year has aspects of a harvest ritual, too. But, the bottom line is—there is a nice case to be made that those Puritans were really on to something new when they organized the First Thanksgiving nearly 400 years ago. Let’s not forget, they weren’t just cheering on fall foods, this was a religiously inspired ceremony inspired by the Reformation.
I’ve been tired, but happy, today here in Paris. And as I was unwinding in the afternoon, with CNN International, they continued to highlight heartwarming anecdotes about today’s Thanksgiving in the Big Apple. All kinds of people and efforts have fashioned Thanksgiving-related bits of services and volunteering today to help their neighbors impacted by “Superstorm Sandy.” I was really uplifted by stories about the “Liquid Church” in New Jersey, which deployed church members to not only help with the clean-up efforts, but to organize Thanksgiving “block parties” in devasted areas. I noticed a Facebook Campaign urging New Yorkers to adopt a family affected by Sandy to their Thanksgiving dinner. Even the hip hop summit youth council was hosting a party for families in Queens. While we always see those familiar television stories of volunteers serving dinner in the Bowery, here we had volunteers going to the needy and inviting them to their homes! Now that’s a celebration that would have made the Pilgrim’s proud.