Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

My First Thanksgiving

29th December 2014

Henry's Travels

When it transpired that a recent trip to California (almost) coincided with Thanksgiving, it didn’t take much persuading for us to delay our return and expose ourselves to a holiday we have heard of, but outside of the US, most of us know little about.

And once our dear friends Rae and Tomas, long-time residents of San Francisco and Black Rock City offered to be our Thanksgiving guides, how could we possibly resist? A plan was quickly hatched to head north to Russian River, to feast, make merry & give thanks for, well, I guessed we would find out.

For a 3 day trip, we had a very full car. It’s a serious business this Thanksgiving. Loaded to the gunwales, suspension creaking, we headed over the Golden Gate Bridge, with what at times, felt like the rest of San Francisco. Happy Holidays.

And so it proved; we holed up in a beautiful cabin a mere stroll from Russian River; we walked, we talked, we laughed (how we laughed), we ate, we drank, we gawped in wonder at the magnificent redwoods. And we gave thanks.

Through the course of our stay we consciously acknowledged what each other had brought into our lives and what we had in our lives that we were grateful for and gave thanks for that. One could argue that this was trite from a global perspective, but charity begins at home.

Many Buddhists say that everything we do, say and think is like a stone dropping into a pond sending out its ripples, which influence the world around us. Appreciating the good we are delivered of - and being appreciated for the good we can bring - can only help that notion.

Through the course of our stay we consciously acknowledged what each other had brought into our lives and what we had in our lives that we were grateful for and gave thanks for that. 

How this compares to what the rest of the US does we could only speculate; and how the current manifestation of Thanksgiving compares to the original, probably no one can say. I had a vague understanding that Thanksgiving dates back to The Pilgrim Fathers, gathering their first harvest and giving thanks to God, each other, anyone who was listening, for bringing them to their new home and providing them with a place to live and food to eat.

I suppose it’s not that surprising to find this is actually a pre-America celebration; given the colonists all came from Europe, the basis of the celebration is Euro-centric, and in fact the first record of Thanksgiving in the Americas was by Spanish colonists. The key factor for me in the early celebration is that Native Americans outnumbered the colonists at the first meal in 1621. The local Wampanoag tribe had given food to the colonists during their first winter when their own supplies had run out. This generosity of spirit clearly was not based on any understanding of what was to come.

And perhaps that is the true spirit of Thanksgiving; the appreciation of gifts received that were given with no thought of reward or return. I’m actually hard pushed to think of an equivalent holiday or event that has the same meaning in the UK. I guess Christmas comes closest, but it now seems a hybrid, the original – and deeply spiritual – Pagan mid-Winter feast, being overrun both by Christian indoctrination, and more recently a rampant and unseemly race around the shops. The true spirit of thanks and appreciation is being muscled out by the lure of Amazon and Westfield.

There is a lot of thanking and appreciation that goes on at Thanksgiving; it’s America’s biggest holiday. But I do wonder that with Black Friday and Cyber Monday following closely on its heels, whether the roots really go deep enough. Sure, many people turn their backs on this capitalist “start of the holidays” spending spree, but oh-so-many don’t. 

Our first Thanksgiving kept the thanking to a maximum, and the rampant commercialism to a minimum. I wonder what kind of place the world would be if more of us did this more often than I suspect most of us do?