Thanksgiving dates to 1620-21, and the harvest festival celebrated by the Plymouth Separatists and their Indian neighbors after both groups managed to survive a rough year. The Separatists were not the rigid, stereotypical “Puritans” that most people associate with New England. Those folks arrived later. The first group were more mellow in their understanding of religion and tolerance, and the group included Strangers as well as “Saints.” Miles Standish, for example, was a Stranger, who worked as hard as anyone and helped nurse and protect anyone who fell in the disease outbreak that winter. Giving thanks for the harvest and the One who provided it was natural, and an English as well as Indian tradition.
“Harvest Home” is not longer something most people in the US, Canada, or elsewhere do unless you are part of a farming community or follow a certain cultural tradition. If you are in a city, you probably don’t farm, so it doesn’t apply. “Harvest Home” was the bringing in of the last sheaves of grain or sacks/baskets of root crops. It led to a community celebration, or at the very least to the land owner treating his workers to a good meal and good beer/ale. The work wasn’t over, not at all, but the time-critical harvest was done and the grain and other things had been brought safely home. “All is safely gathered in/ Ere the winter storms begin.”
Today, Harvest Home means grain is in the bin or at the elevator, the root crops are gathered, and the combine or digger can be put away for a while. No more working from can’t see until “so tired I’m hallucinating” in order to save what can be saved. Farm wives no longer have to shuttle meals out to workers at all hours of the day and night while taking care of the kids and running into town for parts and supplies if needed. There’s time to breathe, to rest, to prepare for cleaning equipment ahead of winter, to take inventory of the harvest and the crop year.
Today, in the US, we give thanks for food and shelter, for health and well-being, and for the opportunity to give thanks. Some of us are with family of blood, or family of choice, or are working so that others can have a little time away. Giving thanks reminds us that we are not the center of the universe (unless you are a cat, in which case I congratulate you on your good taste in blog reading). Other people make the good things in life possible for the rest of us – farmers, power-company employees, physicians and EMTs, soldiers and sailors and airmen, the folks working at the grocery store . . . Whether you believe in a higher power or not, stopping to give thanks is a good way to keep a proper sense of proportion about the world.
I hope you have something to give thanks for, and that today is a good day for you and yours, wherever you are.