Over at Catholic Online, there's a pretty good unpacking of Thanksgiving. OK, we know the pilgrims didn't invent giving thanks go God. You know, it's strange, but I don't remember ever thinking that they did. I just thought it was all part of the whole being religious package. I may not have known the roots of historical harvest and thanksgiving celebrations, but it didn't matter. The Pilgrims gave thanks for surviving. And they shared their meal with the American Indians who helped them survive. Fine.
In our usual way, we spend much time telling people what they don't know about the past. That's fair enough, since there's enough in the past that most people probably don't know. It's worth pointing out that Catholics were out and about, giving thanks, long before the Pilgrims came. It's worth noting that harvest celebrations of thanks are rooted in Jewish and Christian traditions, as well as other cultic traditions. I'm fine with remembering how the holiday came to be an official national holiday.
But the thing that always made the Pilgrims stand out is what they did and how they did it. They came here against all odds, not in service to king and crown, not to make money, but to have the freedom to worship. They broke the bonds, and railed against convention, and risked their lives (and many lost their lives) to have that freedom of worship. I know, I know. But they were intolerant and drove non-conformers out of town on a rail. And? When we say freedom do we mean anyone should be able to do or believe anything? If someone is hot on Hitler, do we say 'no problem, come and let's celebrate'? Do we tell people who are opposed to homosexuality that all is well, we can respect that, so let us sit and celebrate together? Do Catholics say anyone should be able to do anything they want, including advocating abortion, and all is well?
Was a time in the 70s and 80s, when liberalism promised a Utopian paradise of absolute freedom, openness, tolerance, and respect. Didn't matter what you wanted to believe, stand for, advocate, or think, a truly enlightened society would open its arms to all comers. So it's easy to see why, in those days, we tended to look down on the Pilgrims and their intolerant ways and see a dose of serious hypocrisy. But today, I think the hypocrisy is on us, especially if we want to get on the Pilgrims for doing what we so gladly do ourselves. They did, after all, what any society does. They simply established a community of values they expected folks to live by. And they wanted the freedom to do it. In so doing, they should be the poster-children of our 21st century society, where endless advocacy groups make it clear that this country isn't big enough for those who don't conform.
So while the article is good, and gives a nice take down on the history of the holiday without the digs and dismissals I've seen too often in some Catholic writings, and certainly without the scorn and contempt heaped upon it by our post-Christian society, it's worth remembering why the Pilgrims. Why the honor given them? Because they didn't just give thanks. They gave thanks doing what Americans always valued, and that's laying it all on the line for freedom and the right to live as we would, based upon the calling we felt God placed upon our lives. They were what Americans always aspired to, and what it wouldn't hurt more, including American Catholics, to aspire to as well.