Thanksgiving has come around again, and this year of global turmoil seems to be shining a different light on the misunderstood American holiday. There isn’t a whole lot that we feel thankful for in 2020, as we were hit with disaster after disaster pretty much worldwide since January. However, perhaps that is the very reason why this year over any other, the November holiday should spill forth from the borders of North America to the lands beyond the West.
Originally, Thanksgiving was a celebration of the first feast from the first harvest that the pilgrims (the people who left their home country seeking out freedom in the ‘new world’) were able to create because of the life-saving intervention and help that was offered to them by the indigenous peoples already living in the land.
The year for both people groups was fraught with hardship. For the indigenous people, they had outsiders and strangers invading their homeland with a new language, customs, religion, way of living, and taking over what wasn’t theirs. For the pilgrims, they had been suffering from such fierce oppression in their own country that they were willing to uproot, leaving their families and everything they’d ever known, to journey into unknown territory where they did not know what to expect and where shortly after arriving, they were starving. The fact is, they would not have survived if it wasn’t for the goodness and generosity of their new neighbors who, despite their differences, extended a helping hand.
And despite what 2020 has been like – we don’t need to rehash it all, these memes sum it up – this year has also been a time with much to be thankful for as we come into the harvest after a long, hard, and grueling year. How many of us are thankful that we had a moment where it was globally acceptable to slow down from a stressful, and fast-paced work life? How many of us realized how much we truly love and cherish those closest to us, maybe even people we might have taken for granted pre-pandemic when we were unable to see each other, but upon the first opportunity we rushed – or will rush if we are still waiting – back into a loving embrace? How many people miss the thrill of having to be creative to solve problems that yes, were stressful, but they stretched us, and enlarged us in the way that only hardships can? How many people prioritized what was truly important this year? And now on the eve of a vaccine and a possible returning to life as we knew it, can we look back on this tough-mudder of a year and be thankful? Or better yet, shouldn’t we look back on 2020, and give thanks for the things that we have learned? They say that a diamond can only be created under pressure. 2020 gave us the pressure. What are your diamonds?
So yes, we should all celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Traditionally in the US, Thanksgiving is one of those rare holidays that is celebrated by the entire population. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, where you come from, what you do, or who your family is, because giving thanks is a universal practice that can cross any division. Whether you are American, British, Iranian, Nigerian, Indian, or Emirati, we should all give thanks this year for something.
This Thanksgiving, perhaps as a species, we can be thankful not despite 2020, but for 2020.
As a foreigner in this land, we can give thanks to the locals who have graciously opened up their country to us, and to the leadership, who has shouldered our burdens and extended their acceptance and care to all of us, regardless of nationality, simply because we call this place home. We can give thanks for our neighbors who have laughed with us, cried with us, and held each other up with humor and empathy through the darkest days. We can give thanks for our families, who even when we are separated, continue to find ways to connect with one another over this amazing thing called the internet – which we are also thankful for. We can give thanks for our health and the health of our loved ones – which is no longer something we can take for granted.
So as an American, I offer you this holiday, this misunderstood American holiday, to no longer be just for Americans. Thanksgiving is for everyone. It’s no longer about pilgrims and indigenous peoples and harvest. It’s about humans loving humans, even those different from us. It’s about being thankful for Good Samaritans. It’s about celebrating a perseverance through a difficult time, and overcoming each disaster together. It’s about giving thanks for what we have, what we have learned, how we have grown, and who we have become not lamenting what was lost. This Thanksgiving, perhaps as a species, we can be thankful not despite 2020, but for 2020.