Thanksgiving and the Notion of Hospitality

It has been nearly four centuries since, in 1621, the Pilgrims marked this as the time of year to give thanks. They rejoiced in the harvest and the promise of bounty in a new land where they sought religious freedom. At the first celebration, settlers of the Plymouth Plantation invited the Wampanoag to join them for three days of feasting, as fish and fowl, fruits and vegetables were served to their honored guests. The Pilgrims wished to return the hospitality that the NativeAmericans had extended to them, when they helped the new arrivals to keep starvation at bay during that initial winter in a harsh and unfamiliar land. The Wampanoag had provided them with food and taught them to farm for their own survival. The Pilgrims and their indigenous neighbors partook together with gratitude and in a gesture of goodwill. As Americans in the 21st century, the tradition of hospitality is something we can take from the story of that Thanksgiving. And (as noted in a 04.Nov.2021 Washington Post piece entitled, “This Tribe Helped the Pilgrims Survive for Their first Thanksgiving: They still regret it 400 years later (Long marginalized and misrepresented in U.S. history, the Wampanoags are bracing for the 400th anniversary of the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621),” perhaps we should recognize that the once-a-year remembrance is hardly sufficient, considering the ultimate price to indigenous peoples at the hands of all who followed the Pilgrims these rich shores.

Today, hospitality means welcoming others – particularly strangers – and making them feel at home. It means remembering that almost all of us have roots that trace back to a different country, and likely to a different continent. It means honoring our identity as a nation of immigrants that has thrived on the contributions of newcomers, as well as the indigenous people who preceded us. People still come to these shores for the same reasons they always have – pursuing freedom from oppression, in search of quality education and economic opportunity, and for the chance of a better life. Hospitality means opening our communities as well as our hearts and minds to others, however different their customs, cultures, and languages.

Most of us have something to be thankful for in this country. May you rejoice in abundance and extend hospitality to those around you. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!


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