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Thanksgiving, a time for more than thanks?

For years I thought that Thanksgiving, as an official holiday, was unique to America. Now I realize that harvest festivals are held in many parts of the world, gratefully celebrating the bounty of nature and a benevolent divinity.

Even our school children know that a harvest feast was held in Massachusetts in 1621 by a small colony of Pilgrims from England and their neighbors, a Wampanoag Native American tribe. The Pilgrims were grateful for having survived a terrible winter. The Wampanoags befriended the new Pilgrims, offering them food and help with farming the rocky soil.

Two hundred years later, the festival became our cherished national holiday emphasizing family, food, and gratitude.

That first Thanksgiving - Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a harvest feast - was indeed a blessing. But it would have been an even greater blessing had it been a harbinger of cooperative, peaceful relations between the explorers of the New World and its native residents.

Sadly, what unfolded instead over the years was a terrible and tragic history of conquerors and colonizers bent on acquisition and conversion, if not annihilation, of a native people and their culture. It was a long and shameful trail of grief and loss.

These days, I wonder what would happen if we descendants of the Pilgrims (more or less) revived that early tradition and invited our neighbors of the nearby Cherokee Nation to our Thanksgiving tables, and they accepted the invitation. What would it require? What courage and healing might it hold for us all?

Going deeper, can we truly experience thankfulness for life's blessings without first acknowledging our sins, asking forgiveness and seeking reconciliation? Can we truly give thanks without humility, without acknowledgment of what we have done and left undone?

The most enduring symbol of contemporary Thanksgiving in America may still be the familiar scene by artist Norman Rockwell: a family, heads bowed, gathered round a table laden with turkey and special foods. What if the table was expanded to include the myriad diversity of our communities, the neighbors we don't know, the strangers we choose not to see?

What if?

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