On Thanksgiving 2021 — the second Thanksgiving of the pandemic — we all crave normalcy.

We crave normalcy so much that many of us are forcing it. As Minnesota’s COVID-19 death rates and fresh cases soar, as our ICU beds fill and our hospitals shudder under the strain, we are traveling and gathering, vaxxed and unvaxxed alike.

We do so in a bizarre economic moment, marked by the contradiction of high unemployment as employers cry for workers, with inflation levels unseen in this nation in decades.

We are accustomed to viewing Thanksgiving as a celebration of plenty, and it is certainly that. And the United States, for all its current economic stress, remains a society of plenty.

But burrow into the heart of Thanksgiving, trace the holiday’s history, and you find something more. You find a celebration built in times of crisis and concern.

The fabled first Thanksgiving — featuring the Pilgrims and at least some of their native neighbors in what is now Massachusetts — came when the colony was satisfied that it had staved off starvation, a very real risk for a fledgling settlement an ocean away from assistance.

The first proclamation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday came in the midst of the Civil War.

Legislation establishing the date of the holiday came in 1941, as the United States girded for its eventual entry into World War II.

None of those milestones came in normal times. They were times of fret and worry, times when the future was uncertain and the path ahead dim. The creators and celebrants of Thanksgiving sought to light the lamp of optimism. They started by acknowledging and embracing what they had.

Thanksgiving was never really a holiday about prosperity. It was, and is, a holiday about growth. That was true in 1621; it was true in 1863; it was true in 1941. And it remains true today.

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