The Real Spirit of Thanksgiving

We often see reminders about the real spirit of Christmas. But what about the real spirit of Thanksgiving?

The true spirit of Thanksgiving is that gratitude is a universal human expression that transcends culture and time. A reminder that…

  • Partnership leads to prosperity.
  • Hospitality is better than hostility.
  • Connection is more important than correctness.

Clearly the name of the holiday, THANKSGIVING, is self-explanatory, but the rich history and everything that led up to it is what makes it worth celebrating again and again…

Several colonies reported having thanksgiving celebrations for harvest or for setting foot on dry land. Some of these celebrations date back before the first thanksgiving meal that most of us learned about in grade school.

Let’s go back 396 years to an autumn harvest celebration where the Wampanoag people and pilgrims feasted on freshly hunted game and the pilgrims’ first harvest at Plymouth.

It wasn’t exactly the warm fuzzy thanksgiving dinner you imagined in grade school where a little girl with braids and a bonnet enjoyed a plentiful feast next to a little boy with a band of feathers around his head.

There was a lot of fear.

After risking exposure to disease and violence the Wampanoag people and pilgrims coexisted under a peace treaty that was a matter of mutual convenience.

Sometimes the treaty was upheld and other times it was violated.

Times were tough for the Wampanoag; other tribes were on the offensive.

The first year was rough for the pilgrims; by autumn only about half of them remained.

For the pilgrims, the harvest was needed to sustain them through the winter and the celebration was a much-needed morale boost.

Part of the autumn harvest celebration included shooting muskets into the air.

This alarmed the Wampanoag people.

The Wampanoag sent about 90 armed warriors to investigate.

It was an intense fact-finding mission for the Wampanoag and was clearly terrifying for the vastly outnumbered pilgrims.

So yes, they shared deer. They shared fowl.  There were meals together.

And just like the pilgrims were thankful for the harvest, the Wampanoag had several seasonal ceremonies of thanks.

But a meal during the first thanksgiving was less like a kumbaya multi-cultural meal and more like a scared group of people pushing past fear and tolerating discomfort because everyone needed each other.

Needed each other for broader protection. Needed each other to maintain calm in a tense situation.

And food is a universal sign of love.

Thanksgiving celebrations continued to be celebrated each autumn in several communities.

George Washington proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer, but it wasn’t until Lincoln, likely reflecting on the “first Thanksgiving” and its peace and abundance “rebranded” thanksgiving, making it an official annual holiday that as a day to give thanksgiving and was meant to encourage Americans to come together.

And Americans have been celebrating a day of Thanksgiving every year since.

The food has changed. The narrative has been modified.

The universal expression of gratitude remains.


So what can we take away from the complicated history that is Thanksgiving?

Partnership leads to prosperity: We can do more together.  And we should celebrate and give thanks together.

Hospitality over hostility: Welcoming others with food and gifts and helping them despite fear brings peace.

Connection over correctness: It doesn’t matter whose way is the right way.  It matters that we connect with each other.  It matters that we love each other.


How can we apply the real spirit of Thanksgiving today?

  • By recognizing the abundance that is all around us
  • By remembering to say thank you to others
  • By being willing to work together regardless of differences
  • By taking time to celebrate key milestones

Thanksgiving is a reminder for all of us, but it’s not just one day.

It’s a way of life.

Start today. This Thanksgiving Day.

Instead of fighting over stuffing in or stuffing out…eat what’s served and politely pass on what you don’t want.

Respect differences of opinions.

And in the words of Kool & The Gang,

Celebrate good times…come on!


Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

I appreciate your time and wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving.

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