I like Thanksgiving and I’ve always had many reasons to feel thankful, but never more than this year. In the midst of widespread misery, misfortune, pain and suffering, how could I not feel grateful for my comfortable circumstances? 

It’s true that the coronavirus has caused most of us to experience some small hardships, but what do these minor inconveniences matter at a time when over 10,000 people in our province have contacted the virus, almost 180,000 in Canada. and over 37 million around the world, and with over a million deaths from this disease so far this year? Living on Vancouver Island at this time is fortunate. 

Celebrations of thankfulness have a long history. Medieval communities in Europe held festivals to express thanks for the fruits and vegetables that were harvested each autumn. In many places, Lammas Day celebrated the first fruits of the earth with a loaf made from the new crop being blessed in church. Pagan communities offered up fruits of the harvest to the gods in thankfulness and held ceremonies that involved games, feasting, dancing and pilgrimages. The cornucopia or “horn of plenty” was an important symbol for these celebrations. 

Thanksgiving was originally declared a holiday in Canada on November 6th, 1879. Of course, Indigenous peoples in Canada have a history of having held feasts to celebrate the fall harvest for thousands of years before any European settlers arrived on their land. And, although settler society chooses just this one day as a time for offering thanks, I’ve been told that Indigenous peoples include the giving of thanks in all their ceremonies. We might learn from this example and include gratitude routinely in our daily lives. 

This Thanksgiving, I’m trying to express gratitude to everyone I encounter: people in grocery stores, coffee shops, banks, and so forth. All the people who turn up to work as usual, despite the virus. On Sunday, I’ll toast and appreciate friends and family, near and far. Some dear friends from Ottawa sent me seasonal greetings along with seven carefully-pressed, colourful Eastern maple leaves of various sizes. We’ll have these leaves decorating our Thanksgiving table, just as my friends always did when I was with them for Thanksgiving in past years. 

When I reflect on the cornucopia of abundance that is in my life, I think of the beauty of all the trees that surround us, the forests that we must work to preserve. I’m reminded of Wendell Berry’s wonderful poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front: Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold. Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years. 

The poem concludes: Practice resurrection. 

And so, to some friends and family who are close at hand this Thanksgiving, I’m practicing resurrection by giving them a few bulbs to plant as a way of marking 2020 and anticipating the flowers that will bloom in the spring of 2021. I’m also planting some myself. 

I think it’s a good occasion for us to feel the earth in our hands – as indeed it is. 

A time to hope and plant for the future. 

A time to dig deep.

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