When most of us hear the word “tanager” mentioned, if we have any familiarity with the term at all, a picture of a brightly-colored bird likely comes to mind. For those of us living in the United States this is most probably based upon contact with a Scarlet or Western Tanager which, along with two others, are commonly found within our borders. Tanagers comprise the second largest family of birds, and make up about 4% of all avian species. Even though their taxonomy is in flux, some classifications include over 400 species, all found within the Americas, with the largest concentration being found in the Andes.
One of the most common of these is the Palm Tanager, a resident from Nicaragua south to southern Brazil. Its rather dull olive-green plumage garners less applause than its more vividly colored relatives, but what it lacks in plumage it makes up for in its sociability. Frequently found in gardens, it moves from place to place in an unwary manner blending in well with humans and their dwellings. As its name implies, it is frequently found among palms, but does not limit itself to that particular foliage.
Palms, dwellings, and social interaction also bring to mind a part of the Jewish system of feasts, specifically the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkoth, sometimes also known as the Feast of Booths. “On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.” (Leviticus 23:40 NIV) It was to be a time of celebration, a time for remembering the end of their wandering in the wilderness for 40 years where they were compelled to live in temporary shelters. (verse 42) It was also a time for the celebration of harvest, a time to recount the blessings of the Lord throughout the year, culminating, not unlike our own Thanksgiving Day, in remembering the graciousness of God. Here in the States we may associate this celebration with pumpkins more than palms, but gratitude should be central to our thinking whatever our choice of plant.