In the Church of the early years, prayers were free recitations by the believers. They were expressions of hope or supplications to God. Over time, prayers were ritualized and their meaning and words, fossilized. Some may understand them keenly when they mutter them in times of trouble. But in general, they are verses we pronounce mechanically, like saying “Good morning” or “Thank you.”
And today, the families in the most powerful country in the world get together for Thanksgiving, possibly the most cherished holiday in the United States.
You’ve got to give it to the Americans. They have a huge capacity to surprise. Even their staunchest critics get often surprised when they visit the land. Americans, these detractors may see, are not as appalling as some of their electoral choices might suggest. Or as superficial as portrayed in the worst of Hollywood blockbusters. The vast majority of them are actually nice folks, hard-working and law-abiding, perhaps on average more than most places elsewhere. And more than any other nation in the world, it is massively diverse.
This correspondent is a U.S. citizen and had the fortune to live for some seventeen years in this land. As an Armenian-Argentine-American, he’s been honored with all kinds of Thanksgiving dinners all over the country. In Atlanta, he has shared the table with Americans of old Irish ancestry, including one woman from Pennsylvania married to an Iranian-Armenian and who spoke a delightful Eastern Armenian she had learned from her husband. In New York, he was the guest of an Argentine family, with the man an amateur gourmet that prepared a traditional dish from his homeland, a casserole called “locro”. The table at your writer’s cousins’ home in Los Angeles included a dizzying array of Middle Eastern specialties like those he was raised with in Buenos Aires. And the last Thanksgiving Day he spent in the States was one pleasant night at a yard in Ft. Lauderdale, where the homeowner – an Argentine-American of Italian descent – grilled a well marinated turkey, the best your correspondent has tried so far.
Like all rituals, their original meaning is lost in the feasts and meals. The meaning of Thanksgiving is simply that: an expression of gratitude for all we have. It may not be all we want, but it surely is much more than many others – as entitled to good things as we are – have in a world that has always been troubled. We never know for sure what we have given or what we are receiving. For that, in the United States there’s the wonderful idea of “paying it forward.” If you can’t give back to those who lent you a hand, do it for others in need.
And one more thing Americans should always remember when they get together the last Thursday of every November: the Pilgrims celebrating a particularly bountiful harvest at Plymouth, Massachusetts, on the original Thanksgiving Day in 1621, were quite literally undocumented immigrants, too. Or, in the verbiage of some, “illegal aliens,” too. As this correspondent once saw in the decal of a car at the Carter Center in Atlanta, “God bless the world: no exceptions.”