This week, millions of people will pack their bags and hit the road or take to the skies, braving spontaneous Nor’easters and inclement weather all in the name of a holiday: Thanksgiving. Americans have deemed the last Thursday in November as the annual return to home, where they will gather around a table to eat one sacred meal together.
Despite what we learned in school about Pilgrims and indigenous people regarding this day, the reason for this cultural mass transit and feast have little to do with American history. Many countries have a Thanksgiving—and they don’t all have a giant wild bird as the centerpiece of the dinner table. Thanksgiving is a harvest festival. It is a moment to not only give thanks for the bounty we received throughout the year, but it is a time of sharing that bounty with others.
Many years ago, that bounty came straight from the land to the table. People toiled daily to harvest the food before the first frost. This feast was the final celebration of Autumn and the end of that labor: the culmination of hard work in preparation for the winter ahead. While meat was smoked, and vegetable pickled, all stored away in the cellars for safe winter keeping, the excess was shared among friends and neighbors. It was one last get together before the snows settled in, and people may not see one another until the thaw of Spring.
Today, very few of us live where this remains true. The harvest we share at the dinner table comes not from our own hands in the earth but from braving the crowds at grocery stores. There is little threat of not seeing our neighbors until Spring thanks to snow plows and indoor plumbing and heating. The people who come to our table are not those who farmed the land with us, but those who have left to seek their own adventures, follow their own dreams—and return to tell their stories and share tidings of their lives.
The abundance we share at this yearly feast is two-fold. While it is a physical harvest, a breaking of bread among friends and family with far too many pies and never enough stuffing, the food is merely an excuse. The thanks we give is not for green bean casserole and butternut squash. The bounty we are truly grateful for—the bounty we share around the table—cannot be consumed, but rather it ebbs and flows among those present: the love of friends and family.
We give thanks not only for what we have, but for what are able to give and to share. Love has this magical property like nothing else in the universe: the more you give, the more it grows. It is a spring within your heart that will never dry up as long as you let it flow.
It’s easy to forget that this is what Thanksgiving is all about. This Thursday, as you circle the airport for the forty-third time, waiting to pick up your cousin after a delayed flight; or when you’re about to have a nervous breakdown because you forgot to de-thaw the turkey Wednesday night; or when your niece breaks the good china, remember that none of this matters today. What matters is the bounty you have to share: the bounty of love, of joy, of good health, of plenty, of gratitude.
And if you are someone who feels their fields did not yield much this year, that’s okay. Come to the table. You bring yourself—a unique and special creature made of love, able to share yourself with all those around you. You needn’t bring a dish to be welcome. We aren’t giving thanks for just what we have; we are giving thanks for being able to give. And sharing of yourself is something only you can give.
From all of us at Bark Avenue Foundation, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. May you give and receive the love around the table, and share with others of yourself. Unlike the apple pie whose last slice is gone too soon, you will never run out of love—no matter how much you give and share.
Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.org.