Autumn Canal in Amsterdam
It’s always interesting trying to explain the important holidays of your culture to others.
Some carry over easily, such as religious holidays like Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Ramadan, even if the specific ways in which they are personally celebrated differ a bit from country to country.
Many countries recognize various aspects of society on days of national importance (Labor Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day in the US come to mind) or key individuals in the nation’s history (e.g. George Washington’s, Abraham Lincoln’s and Martin Luther King’s birthdays).
Then you’ve got certain holidays that are recognized in a smaller number of countries, such as Halloween. Originally a Celtic celebration, it has been a mainstay primarily in the UK, America and Canada but its popularity has caused it to spread to several other countries (or pockets within them) in recent years.
And let’s not forget the most sectarian of them all, New Year’s Eve.
Each holiday is celebrated in its own unique manner, with its own traditions, activities, foods and beverages, dress and style.
Like you, I’m sure you find that the further away you are from various holidays, the more you tend to view them through both personal and cultural lenses. Not surprisingly, we do the same when we encounter the days of celebration in our new country’s culture.
When it comes to an incredibly important American holiday, perhaps the granddaddy of the them all, it has to be Thanksgiving. It is a day of reflection and celebration that is burrowed deep in the American psyche.
Now I know there are some out there who would focus on the complicated and less-than-stellar results from the interaction between colonial newcomers and indigenous American Indians. Fair enough. But history is dotted with both upbeat and negative examples and episodes of man’s humanity and inhumanity against his fellow man all across the world. Few among us, if any, are pure enough to cast the first proverbial stone.
Rather, we choose to remember that the original Thanksgiving took place at a much more positive point in time, when Pilgrims and Indians alike willingly sat down together to break bread and give thanks for the abundance (relatively speaking) of food and goodwill that resulted after coming through some very difficult times.
Having a dedicated day in which the collective population practices gratitude and appreciation in the form of Thanksgiving is a practice shared only by our northern neighbor, Canada, who marks the day in October.
That doesn’t mean that others don’t conduct themselves similarly, only that they don’t have a national holiday as such.
It also doesn’t mean that being grateful and giving thanks should be or is in fact limited to that one day. If nothing else, having a major holiday based on gratitude is an annual and quite visceral reminder of the need to seek out and practice it on a daily basis. It inspires and humbles, as well it should.
This year we will do what we’ve done every year: celebrate with a traditional Thanksgiving turkey feast (albeit with minor adjustments) and give thanks for family, friends and the blessings of life, in good times and bad. I wish the same for you, wherever you are in the world.