Thanksgiving is the one pure North American holiday, free of politics and commercialism and historical accuracy. Most people like to celebrate the warm-and-fuzzy animal sacrifice side of Thanksgiving. And that’s fine; America is nothing if not a nation of moderation, so we should be allowed one single meal of overindulgence.
But what many don’t realize is that Thanksgiving was not founded on comfort food, closed retail stores, and the Detroit Lions losing. If Thanksgiving were a Netflix original series, it would be shot entirely in black, there would be lots of Meaningful Expressions, all your favorite characters would die, and you would be thankful that there was no Season Two.
The time we call the First Thanksgiving was but one instance of the most dreaded circumstance known to mankind. These gritty, dramatic pilgrims had packed up their worldly belongings and moved to a strange new land. When they arrived, they had no food to eat, nor plates to eat food from, because everything they owned was still packed in moving boxes.
This predicament was not the pilgrims’ choice. No one chooses to move gladly. The original Thanksgiving pilgrims probably liked England a lot; they liked it so much, in fact, that they kept naming American places after English ones, like Norwich and Worcheseshestersheshire (pronounced “York”). But they had to move because the English wanted to get rid of all their stodgiest religious types.
I am likewise a modern-day pilgrim. I was persecuted out of my home by landlords who—and this is the problem with capitalism—sold the house so they could afford to move closer to their grandchildren. Until my new rental house was fully repaired and vacated, I stayed for two months in an Airbnb vacation rental, which if you don’t think too much about it is a lot like sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a wooden vessel, only without the luxury views.
I finally reached the Promised Land last weekend. Praise be! But all my worldly possessions are still packed away, and I’m too exhausted from moving to dig through boxes for my Thanksgiving cookware, or a spoon for cereal.
Not coincidentally, I am commemorating Thanksgiving in my house in the truest spirit of the festival: by eating peanut butter sandwiches on a table made of cardboard.
This sort of predicament is exactly what the pilgrims faced. Left alone, they would have starved before they figured out which box held their Crock-Pot. Heck, they didn’t even know for sure where they’d packed their full-length pantaloons or their tennis shoes.
You can often tell that one has just moved by examining one’s clothing. The functional wardrobe of a typical human being is repurposed during a move: socks pad fragile chachkies, coffee mugs are mummy-wrapped in underwear, and dress pants function nicely as furniture blankets. So one wears whatever combination of dish towels and house slippers one can successfully locate until the boxes are unpacked or one moves again, whichever happens first. In fact, the pilgrims strapped belts to their hats because they could not find where they packed their elastic banded ones.
Fortunately for most of us, our moving-year outfits are not preserved in elementary school historical recreations. But wardrobe oddities are not even the most challenging part of moving! There’s also that long, slow realization of how much extraneous stuff you have in your possession. That is not the most challenging part, either, but it’s the part I want to talk about.
I went into this round of moving with the mindset that I would pare down all unnecessary belongings and live a simpler life for it. But then packing up the old place took longer than the three hours I had budgeted for it, so I ended up stuffing everything in boxes, canvas bags, suitcases, shopping carts, the glovebox in the car, and my pockets. And I was just moving across town! I can hardly imagine how the Mayflower looked with miscellaneous coat hangers poking out of every hold.
Now I’d like you to ponder the stereotypical, traditional, modern Thanksgiving for just a moment. Imagine the dining room. Do you envision even a single box with Sharpie scrawl graffitied on the side?
No—because the true spirit of Thanksgiving is being grateful that, wherever you are, you are not moving. So please, when you give thanks around the table, remember the real hardships that the pilgrims endured. And if you want to help the needy, I’ve got a ton of unpacking left to do.
This Fool’s Gold originally appeared in The KC Post.