Summary: The word thanksgiving isn't reserved only for the holiday. What are you thankful for?
Naturally, this week's word is thanksgiving. Not only is it the name of the holiday we'll be celebrating in the U.S. this Thursday, it's also a word in and of itself.
Entering the English language circa 1533, thanksgiving (commonly pronounced as THANKS - GIV -ing, but also sometimes as THANKS - GIV - ing) is a noun that means simply, the act of giving thanks, or being grateful. It can also be a public acknowledgment of gratitutde, especially in the form of a prayer—or even more so around this time of year, a public celebration.
There's some speculation that our contemporary Thanksgiving Day rituals draw from Native American ceremonies, particularly that of the potlatch (Americanized in the mid-1800s as POT - latch). In a traditional potlatch feast, a host welcomed many visitors to his or her home, plied them with lots of delicious food, and even gave away treasured personal items to show gratitude, generosity and respect. The purposes for such grand gestures were varied (from sharing tremendous wealth and other blessings to warding off potential bad luck), but the spirit of giving was always an integral part of the potlatch.
This time of year is special to me. It reminds me of my great-grandmother, who relished the symbolic meshing of cultures inherent in America's Thanksgiving holiday. She liked to tell this story:
"In the late 1800s, a Pueblo Native American tribe felled a large tree and carved it into a long table, complete with seats, then dressed it for a grand feast where they welcomed some Irish immigrants who were new to the United States. Over the years, a little boy from the tribe and a little girl from the group of immigrants became friends, and eventually, they grew up and fell in love. But this caused a scandal among both of their families, so they fled to the rural Midwest to start a shared life and a family of their own, combining their ways.
"The man was known as Eddie Thompson. But my sisters and I called him Pop. He was your great-great grandfather." Then she would smile, pinch my cheeks and say, "So, that's why you get so beautifully brown in the summers and have those lovely, high cheekbones!"
Regardless of what I may feel politically about American history, one way or another, this week I can say for certain that I'll recall with fond thanksgiving the jovial and generous spirit of my amazing great-grandmother and her wonderful way with words. And I'm further grateful for her teaching me my own personal history the best way that she could: through story.
Do you have thanksgiving this week in your heart? And if so, why?
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