Nobody really thinks it happened in the Hallmark way: The pilgrims and the Wampanoag sitting peacefully across a nicely decorated table, passing the stuffing, carving the enormous turkey, wearing impeccable period clothes. So much cooperation. All that togetherness.
Most historians acknowledge we don’t know much about that early 17th-century meeting. The centerpiece might have been venison instead of turkey. Within a short time, we know the natives and the immigrants were at each other’s throats.
But the day’s message is at the core of who we are and how we think of ourselves even after the year we have spent revisiting and warring again over so much of American history.
One year ago, we celebrated a wary Thanksgiving after a divisive and historic election. This year, we’ve fought and debated over monuments that dot our cities and towns. Over the way our society treats women. Over the very principles that underpin our democracy. And, as in moments of past turmoil, sometimes it’s hard not to wonder what the future holds for our nation.
Yet here we are, Thanksgiving again.
We’re reconsidering many things, but there are some notions core enough to survive. Among them: Working together and opening our tables and hearts to each other are worth celebrating. That ours is a land of plenty, despite the dangers that abound. That we should be thankful.
Thanksgiving is a moment for all of our best impulses. We pardon the official turkey. We make nice with friends and family. We find time to reflect and relax. The cranberry sauce and treats from other cuisines sit side by side on our tables.
Since that first Thanksgiving, this country has sometimes reconsidered or reversed course, but always found the best way forward. Still there has always been a time to sit together, even at all our separate tables from coast to coast, and pass the stuffing.