I’m back with my kids in Santa Rosa, CA for Thanksgiving. My 77th birthday is Saturday, after which I’ll be back on the road for another month, traveling north through Oregon and Washington as Winter begins in the Pacific Northwest. Today I’d just like to share with you my Thanksgiving ruminations from 15 years ago. I still feel the same way—and I still have much to be grateful for!
By Oberon Zell-Ravenheart
On Thanksgiving morning, I was contacted by a local radio show for another one of those “Pagan Origins of the Holiday” interviews that I am often called upon to give. I explained that Thanksgiving is the most ancient of all festivals, dating back to the dawn of agriculture, as it is the celebration of the good harvest. In the United Kingdom, the festival of “Harvest Home” is held in churches across the country on a relevant Sunday to mark the end of the local harvest. Other countries, such as Germany, also have harvest-thanks (Erntedank) celebrations, which are mostly rural holidays.
In modern Pagan tradition, there are actually three harvest festivals: Lughnasadh, or First Harvest, is celebrated on August 1, when the grains are cut and the first bread is baked—hence the Christian name of Lammas, or “loaf-mass.” Another name for this time is Bron Trogain, “Harvest’s Beginning.”
Next comes the Autumn Equinox, around Sept. 21, known among modern Pagans as Mabon, after the Welsh god of the harvest. It is also called Harvest Home, Ingathering, and Harvest’s Height, and is the most widely-celebrated time of thanksgiving. Where I live in NorCalifia, this is the time of the Grape Harvest.
And finally comes Samhain (“Summer’s End”), popularly known as Hallowe’en, the festival of the dead. It is also called Third Harvest or Winter’s Beginning, as it is the final harvest before the cold grip of barren Winter settles over the land. Apples and pumpkins are brought in from orchards and fields.
In the US, Thanksgivings were celebrated by different colonies and states on dates ranging from September through December. The first official Thanksgiving in the US was held in the Virginia Colony on Dec. 4, 1619—a really late harvest! The Plymouth Pilgrims set apart a day to celebrate immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, harvest festivals were parts of English and Wampanoag tradition alike. It was only in 1863 that President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be a national holiday of Thanksgiving.
This year’s Thanksgiving was the first with our new granddaughter, Alessandra Pauline, born this past July. And the first without my beloved mother-in-law, Polly Love, who died last February. We come, we go; and the Wheel turns. And this year—particularly following the recent elections—we have much to be grateful for!
As our extended family gathered around the groaning tables for our annual feast of gratitude, it struck me that our new granddaughter is the culmination of bloodlines and cultural heritages of many diverse peoples from all over the globe. Members of our family descend from ancestors who were Irish, Scottish, English, German, Swiss, Norwegian, Filipino, and Choctaw. Probably more I’ve missed. And each new generation will certainly add even more threads to this rich tapestry. The dishes served were from old and new family recipes…some going back centuries; others brand-new and experimental.
And on the hour-long drive back home from our kids’ home in Oakland to ours in Cotati, I thought of the terrible strife in other parts of the globe. Elsewhere, neighbors are pitted against neighbors, nations against nations, even various sects of the same religion at each other’s throats in an eternal escalation of bloody vengeance, like some mad perpetual replay of the Hatfields and the McCoys.
And I got to thinking—how had the Roman and British Empires managed to hold it together to enjoy the internal relative peace of the Pax Romana and the Pax Brittanica? It was the universal custom in those days of intermarriage between the princes and princesses of different countries, so that all the royal houses throughout Europe were related by blood and marriage. For one nation to war against another would mean war between brothers, sisters, and in-laws. Not that this didn’t happen, of course, but the family relationships were a significant mitigating factor.
So here’s my proposal for world peace: 1. Encourage and support intercultural dating and intermarriages; and 2. Have the United nations declare Thanksgiving a universal holiday, celebrated by everyone, everywhere, like Christmas. That way, at least once a year, people would have to sit down together with inlaws and distant relations, break bread, propose toasts, and remember all the things they have to be grateful for—not the least of which is that they are all together, well-met in peace and joy—and not shooting at each other from behind barricades.
An attitude of gratitude is the guidance of the Gaia-dance.
For previous Journal entries and more, be sure to check out my personal website: www.OberonZell.com. There are links there where you can buy my books, statues, jewelry, posters and more.