For Your Consideration on Thanksgiving Eve

It is easy to forget about the Pilgrims. They have become just another bit of cultural/historical ephemera, just another bit of standard Americana with no more real meaning than Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or Ronald McDonald, dour black-and-white clothing and funny buckled shoes serving the same purpose a "Ho ho ho" and a bag of toys or a red afro wig and a set of Golden Arches. The Pilgrims are today as much a gaggle of third-graders in construction paper hats sharing watery fruit punch, carrot sticks and cookies with a matching gaggle of third-graders in construction paper feathered headdresses as a real part of our shared history.

Thanksgiving is about gluttony and football in the year 2007. We'll maybe go once around the table before passing the dark meat and the gravy in order to pay lip-service to the nominal reason for the feast and each say one thing for which we are thankful. But will we really stop and think about it? Or will we just say, "Uh, yeah, friends and family for me, too, pass the stuffing, would you?" and turn back to the TV with the dim hope that the Jets are somehow beating the Cowboys?

We forget that the Pilgrims were not gathering to give thanks for "friends and family," or for Brett Favre's sudden rejuvenation. The Pilgrims were giving thanks for a year in which they didn't die. They were giving thanks to God for their very survival. And not just survival - they were celebrating their good fortune in having more than they needed.

If you know me, you know that this isn't meant as some sort of rose-tinted nostalgia for the Good Old Days When Thanksgiving Meant Something, or a "Why does nobody give thanks to God on Thanksgiving?" polemic, because honestly, I'm as prepared to believe in Santa Claus as I am a God who gives a flying fuck whether human beings are giving thanks to him or not. This is certainly not an anti-football thing, because I'll be watching it, too. This is merely an exhortation for each of us to consider what we really have to be thankful for.

Give thanks for plentiful food, for living in a country where a feast such as the standard Thanksgiving dinner is possible. While you're at it, give thanks for clean, safe drinking water, gallons and gallons of which are to be had just by turning a knob in your kitchen without ever leaving your house.

Give thanks for good health. There is no doubt that the health care system in the United States is a mess and desperately in need of overhaul. On the other hand, we are not dying of typhoid, of cholera, of measles. We live in a world where smallpox, a scourge of mankind throughout history, has been essentially eradicated.

Give thanks for easy and safe travel and communication. You can fly or drive or take the train to see your friends and family on Thanksgiving, or, failing that, you can call them or text them on a phone you carry around in your pocket or email them with a computer you can carry around in a briefcase. With Skype and a $30 camera, you can talk to them for free on what amounts to a "Jetsons"-style video phone.

Give thanks for Black Friday. No, you don't have to like consumerism, you don't have to like the appalling excess, you don't have to like parents having screaming, clawing battles to the death over Cabbage Patch Kids or Power Rangers or Bad Touch Elmo or whatever is the season's "must-have" Christmas toy. But it is worth pausing to remember amongst all the outrageous consumer insanity that will have officially kicked off less than 48 hours from now that we live in a nation where basically anything we need or want is available with a trip to the Jimget or a few clicks on Amazon 24/7.

Millions upon millions around the world don't have these things. They don't know where their next meal is coming from, they have to trek miles from their homes to find drinking water that is reasonably close to safe, they do die of diseases we can't imagine having at all, they are cut off from anyone more than a few miles away, they have almost no material possessions to speak of and no way of acquiring simple things like new clothing or basic medicines and toiletries, much less books and DVDs and iPods and fancy kitchen gadgets.

This isn't meant to be a guilt trip. Nor is it meant to be a blinkered view of the United States of America, in which there is undoubtedly still poverty, hunger, disease, loneliness and isolation and all the rest. This an age in which the gulf between the "Haves" and the "Have-nots" is vast orders of magnitude wider than at any previous point in human history. And despite what we may think when we play keep-up-with-the-Joneses, most of us here in America fall quite squarely on the "Have" side of that gulf, all things considered.

And that is something for which to be truly thankful. We must feel gratitude for our luck to have been born on this side of the gulf and to have all of these things. We must not take them for granted. We feast not just out of gluttony. We feast because we lucky enough to be able to feast. Like the Pilgrims, we feast to celebrate our good fortune.

Now, let's eat.