Paul Greenberg

Thanksgiving arrives in the middle of the week, yet it remains the quintessential American sabbath. A calm descends, clearing away distractions and disagreements, uniting families in an age when they tend to scatter far and wide. Thanksgiving Eve must still be one of the busiest travel days of the year. As if everyone were coming home. For good reason.

Of all American holidays, surely Thanksgiving is the most homey, the most comfortable, and the most established. It antedates even the establishment of the United States itself. It is the same from year to year, as comforting as ritual. Every year the same blessings are said over the same abundance. You can count on it. Unlike the first Thanksgiving in the wilderness, this American sabbath is taken for granted.

How strange that this celebration of roots, of the familiar, of home, of all things good and unchanging ... should have been originated by a band of wanderers. Sojourners who were very much aware they were only sojourners here below and should be. That is, pilgrims. First they had gone to Holland in search of their destiny. They had found freedom; they had found peace and prosperity. What more could they want? Yet they left. Once again. To set forth into the unknown.

How their Dutch friends must have pitied this strange band, this forlorn group of foreign zealots setting sail for a world they thought would be new. They were relying on little but faith in an age when faith, far from the cliche it has become in today's America, offered nothing but trouble and turmoil. They were leaving civilization for the wilderness, the world of Rembrandt and Vermeer for ... who knew what? A wilderness.

For almost a dozen years, they had basked in Dutch hospitality, for the Netherlands even then was open to dissenters of all persuasions, even these foreign nonconformists with their puritanical ways and odd ideas. Their latest exodus must have seemed inexplicable to their hosts. What was it, exactly, that they lacked in Leyden? They had seemed happy enough. Even now they were leaving with speeches of gratitude and affection, not complaint and grievance. Yet they were trading this refuge, this sanctuary, this safe harbor for ... what? For what any good, settled burgher would have considered a frightful destination even if these people survived the dangerous seas. There were reasons for the sobs and sighs of the friends who had gathered at the quay to say goodbye.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.