Thursday, November 23, 2017
A Thanksgiving Reflection. . .
During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year. In 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States. He pointedly marked the successful conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution as occasions for that particular thanksgiving. His successors John Adams and James Madison kept up the practice, also designating days of thanks during their presidencies. Then, in 1863, right in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made a presidential proclamation of a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
For many Americans, Thanksgiving has lost most of its religious significance and has been detached from our own history except for the Pilgrim connection. Instead, we celebrate Thanksgiving by cooking and eating a sumptuous meal with family and friends before embarking on one of the biggest holiday shopping days of the year. Of course, we also spend our day watching football (at great American sport being played by fewer and fewer youth but still highly popular both on the collegiate level and as a professional sport). Center stage is the turkey, a Thanksgiving staple so ubiquitous roasted, baked or deep-fried and it would not be Thanksgiving without it.
Though the Native Americans were friends at the first celebration, our national meal is often interrupted by our national disputes and Native Americans are particularly edgy about a meal in which they were a guest but became the victims in a competition for the land. Jews also have a harvest festival called Sukkot. So do the Canadians and other nations. Not at the same time and not with the same menu, of course. And the Native Americans had meals to celebrate the bounty of the earth and their gods long before the Pilgrims showed up. But the question today is what kind of meal has it become?
Thanksgiving is not a church feast or festival but it is not unchurchly, either. In fact, it is good to look around you at least once a year and forego the depressing news of the nation and the world long enough to see all that we take for granted. We in America live rich lives. We have come to count on things as if we were owed them. We talk too much about rights and now enough about privilege. We expect a great deal but often find it hard to give back. We live ever more solitary lives and so one day when we invite family and friends in we should take full advantage of the occasion. It would not hurt us to say a prayer of thanks and to make this the start of a daily tradition throughout the year. And it would not hurt if we commit ed ourselves to the cause of gratitude. Contentment begins with gratitude and maybe we would all be happier if we were simply grateful for the richness of the lives we lead, the great treasure of liberty, and the awesome gift of freedom.
So, go ahead and eat and watch football and even shop. But let it all begin with a sober reflection on what we have been given as a nation and people and a somber nod to the duty and responsibility that accompany it all.