By Tom Wilbur
Thanks. Giving. Interesting how those words were somehow enjoined in the time gap between today and that special gathering nearly 400 years ago. Thanksgiving is a great word—a term once referring to congregation, prayer, and celebration for needs fulfilled. The humble Pilgrims, people of intensely passionate faith, bowed down to their Creator to thank Him for their bountiful harvest. Not a historian, I’m guessing they might not have called it Thanksgiving back then—but it was a celebration, and was clearly a day set-aside to thank God for everything He had provided them to that point. The food was plentiful enough that they could begin to use the produce from their harvest in trade with others and was a key moment in the initiation of commerce in the newly occupied land.
There are claims by others—stories of people from other countries and backgrounds claiming that they started Thanksgiving, long before our pals at Plymouth Rock. One group says Thanksgiving was started in Canada. Another claim is that Thanksgiving was actually founded by the Spanish in Florida, as early as 1565. Not sure about any of that. But I say we should stick with the Pilgrims on this one. They endured great hardships on the path towards pursuing their religious freedoms, and why should we go back and kick them now? In my book, the Pilgrims started Thanksgiving, and they will continue to have my absentee write-in vote. Besides, who roasts turkeys on a large peninsula surrounded by lots of water? Don’t they eat broil, bake, and fry grouper and swordfish down there? Grouper just doesn’t go with mashed potatoes and dressing, like turkey.
Think of what it must have been like in the early 1600’s. . . Pilgrims and Indians gathering around their camp fires and their oversized plasma screens (probably without remotes) to watch the very first encounter of the Cowboys and the Saints—eating themselves into drowsiness and each one admiring the larger trailer that houses the giant turkey with the six drumsticks attached—especially made for John Madden. And of course, there were the parades from one side of the clearing to the other, and at the end Santa Claus shouting, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Come shop at Macy’s! Ho! Ho! Ho!”
They probably had no idea that the following day, on Black Friday, everyone would be clamoring over each other to get to the deeply discounted sales. But how could they know? This was the very first Thanksgiving, and Black Friday hadn’t even been invented yet. I’m guessing they probably weren’t warned appropriately about the implications one might face if they stood between 300 Moms and twelve available X-box Kinect controllers— deeply discounted at Target that morning. More than a few humble Pilgrims probably got stomped on in those early morning hours, and it must have been quite a tragedy. After all, they traversed the Atlantic and staved off Indians and disease—only to get steam-rolled by linebacker sized Moms, in their PJ’s and curlers—on their way to fulfilling their child’s dreams. (Visions of Cabbage Patch Dolls are now forming in my head, and I need to let them go. I’m now thinking of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, for some reason . . . now Teddy Ruxpin . . . please make it stop . . .)
Thanks and giving. We’ve kind of conveniently shoveled the religious connotations of Thanksgiving Day out of the way. A lot like the holiday following Thanksgiving, where the need for presents has replaced the celebration of the birth of a Savior. Look, I know—we all just want a time to relax—to be with family, and friends, and loved ones—and you’re saying, “Tom, just back off here.” We’re passionate about that television remote and the recliner, our cable TV dialed into the digital NFL and the national dog show, and we love inhaling food until we’re sweating gravy. Far be it for me to make you uncomfortable, in any way. I’d just be a turkey for doing that.
But on that “giving” note? There are a great number of people in Salina who won’t have much to eat this Thanksgiving. Some are living at below poverty level, and their children are literally going hungry—except for when our school system feeds them. Many of these kids don’t get anything to eat on weekends . . . yep, it happens, right here in Salina. As it turns colder, many of the children don’t have warm coats to wear to school. Some Salinans will experience the pain and hurt of the upcoming season— a season where they’ll hear about the special things others receive, but won’t personally experience. There are those for whom Thanksgiving is just another lonely holiday spent without family or loved ones around them— and in many cases, no one cares. We have neighbors who are out of work—and have been for a while. Many are trying to get a job, but haven’t been able to do so. These people are lying beside the proverbial road—and they are hurting . . . will you help them?
There are thousands of us in Salina who are unbelievably blessed. We live in warm homes, experience positive things in our lives, we have jobs and family and friends—and we have loved ones around us. While we experience the joy of the season, there are people here in Salina who need your help, and you can participate—but you’re going to have to back away from that TV remote and turkey leg for a while.
I’d encourage you to open your heart to help one of the area agencies that is doing outreach to help all year long, but particularly during the winter. These groups include the Salina Food Bank, the Salvation Army, the Marine Toy Box, The Salina Rescue Mission, the Martin Luther King Center, Toys for Tots, various angel trees, Catholic Charities, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Salina, St. Francis Homes, the Salina Christmas Fund, the Fekas’ Free Christmas dinner, Ashby House, and the Salina Community Foundation. (The annual Fekas’ Free Christmas Dinner on Christmas morning needs volunteers to help serve all the people who attend, and the number to call is 823-8403, if you’re interested in helping out.) If you don’t know how to help, call one of these agencies—they all know of plenty of needs you can fill. Some needs are monetary—others need some volunteers.
And if you’re looking for love in all the wrong places this holiday season, why not attend church? There are many great churches in Salina with open arms— ready to accept you as part of their family. It’s a great time to get right in a relationship with God—whatever your walk in life or whatever your faith—and it’s the best time of year to be focused on serving others, instead of yourself.
Blessings to you on Thanksgiving Day— and each, and every day.
Be thankful, and this holiday season, give it away. You’ll find it very gratifying.
Tom Wilbur is President/CEO of BANK VI in Salina. He is a lifelong resident of Salina, and has been a regular editorial contributor to newspapers and magazines, and a public speaker. It’s not true that during this season he is often referred to as “Thomas the Turkey”. He can be contacted at email@example.com.