Saying “Thank you,” is one of the first lessons that a mother teaches her child; a simple formula that reinforces and responds to an act of kindness or an attention to the child’s needs. From such a modest beginning an entire structure of social interactions will be built and from those will grow a code of behavior and a character and a personality. Civilized society and culture grow from building blocks like this. Or so the theory goes. Giving thanks in our virtual world comes in a variety of novel forms. Digitized emoticons have created a visual language which tracks human expressions, compressing nuanced messages into a raised eyebrow or a set of bared teeth. “Thank you,”can be a pair of hands, or two thumbs up, or just the ubiquitous smiley face.
In a simpler time, agrarian communities were acutely dependent on the seasons for their food and welfare. Paying attention to the calendar for optimal planting, cultivating, harvesting, storing and hunting was in their best interests for survival. The cyclical patterns of nature were studied, recorded, and passed on from generation to generation. Abnormalities in a pattern were reason for anxiety in this proto-scientific age and perhaps responsible for a social response that would recall Mom’s first lesson in manners – thanksgiving. In the face of uncertainty and given the choice of science or religion, many societies hedged their bets, and while keeping good meteorological stats, they also made strategic offerings to the gods.
From the beginning of history there are records of harvest festivals – noisy celebrations of the successful gathering of fruit, grain and tuber being stored away for the coming winter. Spring festivals marked the wine harvest with noisy and frenzied Dionysian revelry.
Throughout history a combination of wine, food, music, dancing and altered states seems to be the formula for a good thanksgiving. It is interesting that the fabled Puritan thanksgiving after their first harvest in North America (perhaps a more serious and austere affair), has after a number of generations reverted to the gastronomic extravaganza that we are about to celebrate this week.
Perhaps dancing around the turkey will make a comeback – it might counter the post-dinner tryptophan coma.