Day 327 of 366 Blog Challenge 2012

Hello all

For those of us who live in the land “Down Under” Thanksgiving comes much earlier than it does in the USA so when today dawned and I wished my American readers on Facebook a Happy Thanksgiving, they were probably all still sleeping!

Of course, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Australia, it is a day for Americans. They look back on the Pilgrim Fathers who left England in September 1620 to come to the New World and settle there.  I never really understood fully the history of Thanksgiving until I researched it today and I am so glad I did.

I never realised that the Pilgrims came to America to form a a separate community in which they could worship God as they saw fit. They fled England because they were being persecuted by King James I who wanted them to recognise the Church of England’s absolute civil and spiritual authority.

You do wonder about some of those Kings in those days who would kill and persecute anyone who did not agree with them. Strange thing is, our two countries have their roots in England but the similarities end there.

The Pilgrims were amazing really, weren’t they? Nearly half their number died before spring came due to the severe weather and lack of shelter in this new land.  But the faith of these Pilgrims was tested and not found wanting. My research brought up this wonderful statement:

“Yet, persevering in prayer and assisted by helpful Indians, they reaped a bountiful harvest the following summer.”

So by December 1621, they declared a three-day feast to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends. Perhaps I have been watching too many John Wayne movies in the wild west (a different era I know) but I never realised the Indians helped the first settlers! This warms my heart folks.

So, through the years Thanksgiving was in fact celebrated but, according to my sources, it was under President George Washington in 1789 that America celebrated its first Day of Thanksgiving to God under its new constitution. But it wasn’t until 1941, that Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.

I love this story of the origins of of Thanksgiving and it has given me a far better understanding of the deep feeling of profound gratitude that lies at the heart of the holiday and the importance of feasting with family. I get it now!

You see why us Australians do not understand the depth of feeling associated with the celebration of Thanksgiving? We do not have anything to equal a day like this! The closest thing we get to thanksgiving is our celebration of Australia Day on 26th January when we celebrate the arrival of the first fleet in Sydney Harbour.

An artists impression of claiming the land for the British

None of our ancestors were looking for religious freedom. No. The British military aristocrats were simply bringing a whole boat load of convicts from England as their jails were full to overflowing and they had nowhere else for them to go.

Ours is a history of thieves, murderers and vagabonds who were brought out here and treated very harshly indeed. In fact, some of them were no more than starving poor people who had to steal in order to eat, as conditions were so bad in the slums of London. But they were thrown in with murders and treated exactly the same.

It is the broad English accent that these early convicts brought with them which has given us  the Australian flat speech that evolved and still remains today. We have a shameful past for sure.

Now, getting back to our Australia Day. In the past, we have not had the depth of feeling about our National Holiday, but in the last ten years there has been a change of heart.

The Aboriginal people, who have been indigenous to this land for hundreds of thousands of years, refused to celebrate Australia Day, calling it “Invasion Day.” For far too many years folks, we were told that Australia was “terra nullius,”  in other words “land belonging to no one”. This of course was totally incorrect and has now been overturned.

I felt blessed in 2007, to stand and watch as our Prime Minister made a heartfelt speech in Parliament, saying ‘SORRY’ to our indigenous people who were treated so harshly. I have watched as land has been given back to the indigenous people.

A typical celebration outdoors for Australia Day

And because things are now on the way to being righted, we have seen a wonderful surge of patriotism from the masses and a real growth in celebration of all things Australian on our National holiday. We celebrate as only us laid-back Aussies can with lots of outdoor activities as it Australia Day is in the middle of our summer. It can only grow bigger from here.

But folks, today on the American celebration of Thanksgiving, let us take heart from the way the United States celebrate and are grateful for everything, taking the good with the bad.

Perhaps one day as time goes by, us Australians too will embrace our flawed beginnings and be grateful for ALL of it. Hopefully, we can stand side by side with our aboriginal brothers and sisters and all the foreign migrants who inhibit this Great South Land of the Holy Spirit (as it was first called) to say we are all Australian together.

So today, let me say: HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all you Americans ‘out there’. Enjoy your family celebrations.We salute you!

A day of gratitude and feasting