Food. Football. Paper figures with big black hats and oversized belt buckles. This is the basic picture of Thanksgiving that my family passed on to me. There's nothing wrong with it; the first Thanksgiving included supper. Maybe the guests played a rousing game of toss-the-corncob. Surely someone wore a big black hat.
But if you are like me, that vision of the holiday seems devoid of deeper meaning. For a holiday that requires so much preparation, maybe you'd like something more at the end of the day — more than a sink full of dirty dishes, the commotion of football and commercials, or the hat that Uncle Bob unwittingly left behind.
If you want something more, you may just find it in our faith's Jewish roots. Marching farmers, homeless slaves, flatbread eaten in haste, beautiful fruits in baskets: these are just a few elements in a trilogy of biblical harvest festivals that function as a book of living Psalms. In wonderful Psalm-like fashion, everything is brought to the table through these festivals: suffering, triumph, sorrow, joy, struggle, comfort, ugliness, beauty, emptiness, plenty, separation, community, death, and life.
The trilogy begins with Passover, which is not a festival we ordinarily associate with harvest. But Passover coincides with the barley harvest. If you remember the story, Passover commemorates the night God struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, except in the households that had painted blood on the doorposts as a sign that they should be "passed over." The end of the story is life for those who listened, but overall the festival is fairly dark in its celebratory elements: flatbread, a slaughtered lamb, and additional items like bitter herbs and parsley dipped in salt water.
Seven weeks later in ...1