Attitude of gratitude

There is nothing like a good Thanksgiving dinner when you manage to fill up on turkey and cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, buttered mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and then some slices of lemon, cherry or pumpkin pie.

Turks usually think the idea of eating pumpkin pie sounds very odd. Turks cook pumpkin in a very different way. It is boiled and then served in whole chunks, in a sticky syrup with chopped walnuts sprinkled over it. This is called “kabak tatlısı” (sweet pumpkin).

The other day a Turk asked me who celebrates this holiday on Thursday, Nov. 26. I explained that not all North Americans do: Thanksgiving Day in Canada has been a holiday on the second Monday of October since 1957. In the United States the holiday falls on the fourth Thursday of November. It precedes “Black Friday.” It is the busiest shopping day in the year and the start of shopping for Christmas for many.

Thanksgiving holidays stand out from other American holidays in that it isn’t necessarily tied to a specific religion. You can’t trace the day back to a holy book. Most people celebrate it however they want. You just need to carry out the tradition of enjoying a meal with friends or family and give thanks for what you have.

If you want to know what the purpose of the holiday is, the kind of answer you get depends on whom you ask. Most from the US will say the holiday honors American history, of course. In countless Thanksgiving plays, American children have told the story of the first Thanksgiving when the pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated the autumn harvest in cooperation and acceptance.

Let me give you a tip if you are a Turk living in America reading this: Ask your American friend if they ever had a role in this play when they were in school. Watch out! If you go home with them for Thanksgiving, a relative may show you some photos of your American friend dressed up as a Native American or pilgrim.

As I explain in an earlier piece about Thanksgiving Day, “All good things must come to an end” (Nov. 24, 2010) the story goes like this: The original Thanksgiving celebration was held in December 1621 by the pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts during their second winter in America. The first winter killed many colonists and food was scarce; only some provisions were available. Then an unexpected trading ship arrived and agreed to trade with the pilgrims, giving them some much-needed items.

The following year Governor William Bradford decreed that a special day be designated as a day of feasting and prayer to show the colonists’ gratitude that they were still alive. It was President Abraham Lincoln who officially set aside the last Thursday of November, in 1863, “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” Congress ruled in 1941 that the fourth Thursday of November be observed as Thanksgiving Day and that it be a legal holiday.

Americans who are practicing Christians might say that the focus of Christians on Thanksgiving Day should be the pilgrims who were seeking religious freedom and opportunity in America and who were provided for in many ways. It is believed that friendly Indians gave the pilgrims wild turkeys and venison. This is why churches have hymns and prayers for Thanksgiving. It is a time to have an attitude of gratitude. It’s a holiday about the harvest and autumn, as the British say, and the Americans say “autumn” or “fall.”

I am reminded of the words of John Keats, the English poet who wrote “Ode to Autumn.” Keats describes autumn as follows:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;”

I love the way Keats describes how the fall conspires with the sun “to load and bless … and fill all fruit with ripeness to the core … to swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells.”

By the way, gourds and hazelnuts abound in Turkey!

Happy Thanksgiving to our Today’s Zaman American readers. Enjoy!


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