THANKSGIVING is a peculiar holiday except in one respect: It brings out the homing instincts in Americans. At great expense and inconvenience and, sadly, some danger, they will make Herculean efforts to be with their families and friends for a feast -- turkey, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie -- that is such a tradition it's almost a matter of law.
It commemorates a poorly documented 1621 gathering in New England between religious exiles from England, who may or may not have been starving, and the local Native Americans, who were skilled at living off the land they called their own.
The feast seemed to cement an era of goodwill and cooperation. Instead, it marked a steady slide into mutual suspicion and resentment that culminated in an Indian uprising in 1675 called King Philip's War, which nearly wiped out the New England colony until the pilgrims' descendants and their Indian allies suppressed it in 1678.
There is plenty of time to poke around in the obscure dark and bloody corners of American history. We can afford one day a year that asks nothing of us but to be with our loved loves, be grateful for what we have and see that the destitute and our far-flung military share in the feast.
Almost 44 million Americans -- by the AAA's estimate -- will travel 50 miles or more from their homes, sometimes with tragic consequences. Traffic fatality figures show Thanksgiving is perhaps one of the year's deadliest days, if not the most deadly, for traffic fatalities. In 2010, according to federal figures, more people died on Thanksgiving than any other holiday that year.
Immediately, we have two things to be thankful for: the safe arrival of our guests and their safe return home. A holiday that asks only for a smile or other expression of gratitude should be cherished.
The Friday after Thanksgiving is the beginning of the make-or-break sales season for many retailers, and thus the stores have been opening earlier and earlier. Following the example set by many colleges, the weekend is beginning Thursday night -- Thanksgiving, to be precise.
This is a development to be watched. But Thanksgiving has survived Puritan cooking, football on TV and King Philip's War. It will survive this, too.
Happy Thanksgiving. Be joyful. Be safe.