Happy Thanksgiving

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us with all things.

We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water.

We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our sicknesses.

We return thanks to the sun, which has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye to give us warmth.

We return thanks to the moon and stars, which have given to us their light when the sun is gone.

Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in Whom is embodied all goodness, and Who directs all things for the good of His children.

~Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Thanksgiving Prayer

 

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. ~Epictetus  

 

When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree. ~Vietnamese Proverb

 

Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot. ~Hansa Proverb

 

THANKSGIVING DAY

Come gather round the table

To say a happy grace,

For family and food and friends

And a smile on every face.

The harvest now is over,

The fields are clean and bare,

For all the fruits are gathered in

And stored away with care.

Be thankful for the harvest,

For friends so good and gay,

For happiness and loving care

On this Thanksgiving Day.

~Kathryn S. Gibson

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Thanksgiving – A National Day of Mourning

When I was a child in school, each November was spent learning about “the first Thanksgiving.” The  Pilgrims” (Puritans) were glorified as the first settlers of a wild land, as godly people who treated the native population fairly and only fought back when first attacked. The “Indians” were portrayed as “noble savages” who were helpful but uncivilized, and who needed the moral guidance and social refinement of white men to become better individuals.

Of course, the Puritans were far from the first settlers: the indigenous population had been dwelling and prospering in the Americas for many centuries. Even other Europeans had been coming to the New World for a few hundred years. And while the Puritans certainly believed in God and tried to live as they believed He wanted them to, their actions in stealing food and land from the native peoples, and murdering them when they objected, is not a moral ideal.

Less than 5% of the U.S. population has native blood, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the national narrative tends to ignore the perspective of Native Americans; but since the very survival of the European settlers was made possible by them, we owe it to Native Americans to consider their side of history’s story.

In 1970, one of the few remaining members of the Wampanoag, Wamsutta Frank James, was invited to participate at an official Massachusetts state dinner celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower landing. He accepted, and prepared a speech. When officials previewed the speech, they felt it was not appropriate, saying, “…the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place.” Instead, they gave him some prepared remarks to make. He declined, and made his original version public. It read in part:

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you – celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt’s Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians’ winter provisions as they were able to carry. Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an 23epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

The tentative peace and cooperation of the 1621 harvest celebration can be appreciated by everyone; what is often forgotten is that it was followed by centuries of war, land theft, slavery, and genocide—almost always initiated by the white settlers. This cannot be a cause for celebration among those whose peoples were the victims of these atrocities, nor should it be for anyone. In view of the tragic outcome for their people, some Native Americans have declared the fourth Thursday of November to be a National Day of Mourning, a day to stand up and ask to be heard as they speak of the atrocities done to their people, and how it has repercussions to this day in the discrimination Native Americans still face.

Yet, even among native peoples, there are differing viewpoints. The anti-holiday sentiment expressed above is one of these. Another is that although the traditional view of Thanksgiving does ignore and misrepresent some important history, it also shows that it is possible for different cultures to come together in goodwill. Some feel a sense of pride for the generosity of spirit exhibited by their ancestors, and wish to focus on the example set at the “First Thanksgiving” of the cooperation between the two parties.

My family recognizes the dilemma, and we try to use it as a teaching opportunity. We have much to be thankful for, and denying that doesn’t help anyone. Celebrating the harmony and generosity of the First Thanksgiving does not mean we must forget the rest of history; extolling our own blessings does not mean we must deny those of others. We can affirm the guilt of the white settlers’ centuries of brutalities toward the Native Americans and work to right them, while also rejoicing in our many blessings. We can learn from the past and be thankful that we are, however slowly, moving toward a future of brotherhood among all peoples.

Thanksgiving is time to celebrate and delight in family and friends, prosperity and gifts. It is a time to remember all we’ve been given, and share it with others. May we all remember both the Thanks and the Giving of the day.

What if You’re Alone on Thanksgiving?

Every Thanksgiving is different, and some years may not bring a family gathering. When that happens, the holiday may be a source of loneliness, a reminder of lost or distant loved ones, and a time of depression. It is easy to say to count your blessings, but sometimes we all have trouble finding the blessings in our sadness. There is no easy answer or cure for such feelings, but there are some things that may help mitigate them.

If you have family or friends to whom you can reach out, do so. This could take place in any of several ways. It may be possible to physically go visit them. Good friends will be happy to be available for you when you need it, even if they are busy. Take advantage of the opportunity if it arises.

If that’s not possible, perhaps a phone call would help you connect. Or, try writing a letter. This could be to a loved one who is not with you, or to someone who has made a difference in your life. Thank them for what they’ve contributed to your life, and tell them what they mean to you. Remember good times you had together.

You don’t have to know someone to reach out to them. Spend the day helping at a soup kitchen, or visit a hospital or elder-care facility and visit with other people who are alone. You may find that helping others brings you joy; and you may even find a new friend.

If you know ahead of time that you will be alone, plan to help an animal shelter or similar facility. Usually, this must be arranged ahead of time, but the facilities are often happy for the help. Many times, their workers are out of town or taking the day off, but the animals still need to be fed and cared for. Or, perhaps a neighbor needs someone to look after their pet while they go out of town. In addition to helping the animals, you could be helping yourself: research has shown that interacting with animals brings contentment.

Keep the lights on. Many people don’t turn on lights for just themselves, but that could be a mistake. Doctors now know that darkness can sometimes deepen depression. Keep the environment bright, and it may help keep your spirits bright as well.

Music also affects our moods. Play something that brings good memories.

But avoid alcohol – it’s a depressant.

Above all, if you are concerned that you may hurt yourself, seek help immediately by calling a helpline or going to a medical clinic. There are people trained to help, but you won’t know the difference they can make until you give them a chance.

Book Review: News of the World

In 1870 Texas, 71-year-old Captain Kidd (not that one) makes a living traveling from town to town reading news from all over the world, both informing and entertaining his audiences. One night, he’s asked to undertake a special mission: return ten-year-old Johanna to her relatives. Johanna was captured by the Kiowa four years earlier during a raid that left her parents and siblings savagely murdered. Being adopted into the tribe, she considers herself fully Kiowa, with little to no remembrance of her life before or white man’s ways.

Author Paulette Jiles clearly shows how the child feels, but is unable to provide any insight into why. Historically, these children never wanted to leave their adoptive Native American families to return to their birth families; and when they were forced to, were never able to re-adjust. This was the case no matter the age of the child when taken; the race, comfort, or customs of the birth family; which Indigenous tribe adopted them; or the amount of time they were with the captors. Jiles chooses not to provide a rationale for her character, hazarding no guess regarding the psychology of captive children.

The four-hundred-mile journey undertaken by the Captain and his charge is fraught with danger at every turn, from both whites and Natives, and Johanna’s ingenuity saves their skin more than once, despite the fact that she is none too happy to be pulled from the life she loves and re-created as a white child.

It is, of course, the growing trust – love, even – between these two characters that provides the heart of the story. This relationship unfolds naturally, never forced by the author, and the slow growth of affection and understanding is a counterpoint to the fast-paced action of the journey, all the way to the last chapter.

Notice I said TO the last chapter, not through it. When you finish chapter 21, just go ahead and close the book. Chapter 22 should have been left off. It is rushed and unnatural, not to mention beyond implausible, and adds nothing of import to the story of the Captain and Johanna. This last chapter is what brings my rating from five stars to four. The strong writing and story-telling keep it at four.

I won a copy of News of the World (HarperCollins, 2016) from Book Bytes but all opinions are my own.

Happy All Souls Day

Yesterday was for the saints, and the day before was the Eve of the Day of the Hallowed, but today is for everyone.

It’s a day to think about our ancestors and our friends and loved ones who have passed away, and remember what they brought to our lives. Tell the younger generations about them to keep the memories alive. Pass along traditions. If you’re close enough, go the cemetery and clean up the grave sites.

Happy All Hallows Day

Also called All Saints Day

The -een of Halloween is a shortening of “evening” and hallow means holy. So Halloween is just the evening before the real holiday, the day of holy ones, or saints.

On Halloweeen

Many historians accept that Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), which marked the beginning of winter and their new year.

The Celts were an agrarian people, so preparation for the cold, dark season began weeks in advance. Homes and barns were cleaned and spoiled or unnecessary items disposed of to make room for the incoming harvest. The crops were brought in and stored. As winter drew closer, livestock was moved to more sheltered pastures or into newly-cleaned barns. If a person had more stock than feed for them, some were slaughtered for food. The theme was much like our new year: out with the old and in with the new, planning ahead and starting anew. These preparations culminated in the Samhain festival.

One aspect of Samhain was the Celtic belief that the souls of those who died during the year traveled to the “otherworld” on this day. That being the case, this was the time of year a person would most likely encounter the spirits/ghosts of the dead. So a big part of the Samhain celebration was devoted to the departed.

Bonfires and torches were lit in their honor to help them find their way. People left out offerings of food and beverages for the same reason. Stories were told and songs sung in remembrance of the deceased, especially one’s ancestors. People would try to call loved ones to them for one last meeting before the departed were lost forever to the otherworld.

But, just as all living persons are not nice, neither were all spirit beings. The fires also helped keep away the evil ones. For added protection, people carved scary faces in turnips and other vegetables to frighten away unwanted spirits.

Samhain began its transformation into the modern Halloween in the year 601, when Pope Gregory I instructed missionaries that instead of trying to abolish local beliefs and customs they should dedicate them to Christ, and convert pagan holidays into Christian feasts, to ease the transition to Christianity.

Since paying respect to the dead was a main feature of Samhain, the feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1. This feast honored every Christian saint. The church later instituted All Souls Day on November 2 to honor all dead, not just Christian saints. Celtic peoples could now continue their commemoration of deceased ancestors and still be part of the new church.

That Church did not, however, change its creed. It still maintained theological superiority, so the leaders of the Celtic religious practices (Druids) were branded as devil worshipers, and the Celtic otherworld became hell. If any spirits were about, they must be demons.

Still the old beliefs and customs lived on; they just assumed a new guise. Trick-or-treating is a carryover from the belief that the dead are out and in need of food and drink. Costumes became popular later when people began dressing as these ghosts and engaging in tomfoolery, sometimes asking for a reward. Jack o’lanterns come from the vegetables carved to scare away unfriendly specters.

I love the idea of a day set aside to remember those we’ve lost, to tell our children about those who came before, to consider where we came from and thus who we are.

And I understand that we can all, especially children, overcome fears by facing them. Just as getting comfortable with monsters on Sesame Street can ease fears of monsters under the bed, if kids see a friend dressed as a witch or a big scary dog, maybe they won’t be quite so averse to dogs or fearful of witches in the broom closet.

But I don’t like the gory turn Halloween has taken. When I was a kid, you’d see costumes of ghosts and witches, but not things like bloody, gutty, stabbed murder victims. Why does society feel the need to get more disgusting and gross and violent? Lots of people aim for the highest shock value possible…and we get more comfortable with it.

My belief is that we shouldn’t become at ease with violence any more than we should get comfortable with a racist trying to get more shocking in his portrayals. So maybe I’ll pass out candy (or eat it!). Maybe I’ll watch a scary (not gory) movie or read a ghost story. Maybe I’ll even dress up. But not as anything that promotes violence.

What do you think about Halloween?