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Stateside With Rosalea: Hospitality Day, 2004

Stateside with Rosalea

Hospitality Day, 2004

The Thanksgiving Day holiday is ''long enough to fly home and short enough to have to submit to it,'' according to someone I'd asked about its significance. What they're submitting to is the obligation of attending some sort of family get-together, with all the angst and/or boredom that goes along with that.

This really is THE big holiday in the US calendar because it isn't related to any religious event and so can be shared by the entire population. Schools put on plays about it, the print and electronic media burst with ways of cooking turkey and pumpkin pies, and on the Thursday shops actually close. In a consumer society like this one, that's a big commitment! (They make up for it though the next day, some of them opening at 5am to catch shoppers eager for bargains from the three-day sales that ensue.)

The original Thanksgiving dinner was a three-day feast put on in 1621 by the Pilgrims to give thanks for most of them having survived a year at Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, and for their first harvest. A primary school textbook I have, YOU and the United States, published in 1964, sums up the kind of thing much of today's adult population of the US grew up on with regard to this holiday.

I'll leave it up to you to decide if it says anything about the simplistic world view the general US population seems to have if their surprise and disappointment at not being hailed as liberators of Iraq is anything to go by.

By way of explanation, "Squanto" is an Indian slave who had been set free from service with the captain of another English ship that had been in the area ahead of the Mayflower, and "Massasoit" is the chief of the neighboring "Algonkian" tribes, with whom Squanto helped the Pilgrims conclude a peace treaty, which Massasoit "kept for the rest of his life."

"Squanto stayed with the Pilgrims the rest of that spring and summer. He taught them how to plant corn, or maize as the Indians called it. He showed them how to enrich the earth by burying certain rotting fish with the seeds. He taught the Pilgrims the uses of wild roots and herbs for food and medicine, how to hunt deer and other wild game, and how to use deerskin in everyday living the way the Indians had done for so many years.

"That fall, the Pilgrims wanted to show their thanks both to God and to their Indian friends. Their corn had grown well and they had much fish, turkey, duck and deer meat stored for the winter. They invited Massasoit to join them in a Thanksgiving Feast. Massasoit arrived with ninety braves, and the feasting lasted for three days. The story of this feast has been told in many different ways. Probably no one knows exactly what took place, but it has become known to Americans as Thanksgiving Day."

As an immigrant, I think of the fourth Thursday in November as Hospitality Day. It honors both the hospitality of the people already living on the land and the hospitality of the newcomers, who shared the bounty of their newfound knowledge with their teachers. It is about trust and acknowledgment.


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