I’m writing this short greeting on the eve of Thanksgiving. Tomorrow we celebrate that uniquely American holiday when we gather our friends and loved ones around a banquet table and gorge ourselves with a month’s worth of sodium, fats and sugars. The glorious day that awards the hard working chefs in each crowd, who spent countless hours shopping, prepping and cooking the sundry of “traditional” dishes, with the experience of an orgy of frenzied consumption that leaves little time to appreciate their exhaustive efforts. Mountains of food will be devoured, at least partially, in a matter of a few minutes; with the remnants stowed in refrigeration for even more gluttony on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is during this celebration that the faithful, and the C&E’s (Christmas and Easter Christians), and even the non-practitioners, all pause in reverent prayer to express their gratitude for health, life, love and their own prosperity measured by whatever scales are appropriate.
It is precisely those “scales of measurement” that need our attention. It would be easy to mire our thanks in the worry over an unsustainable national debt growing exponentially with unchecked deficit spending, nationwide continued high unemployment with faltering consumer confidence, the looming “fiscal cliff,” the rockets flying in Gaza, or the riots in Greece and the potential relevance of their forced austerity to our own economy. But history demonstrates that in light of rampant pessimism and despair, we still need to recognize that there is much to be thankful for.
It started in 1623, when Governor Bill Bradford along with his fellow Plymouth colonists sat and feasted with the Wampanoag Indians for three days: 72 hours! (That’s just about as long as we will have to spend at the gym to unstuff our gullets and arteries.) Back then, they were thankful that they had had a harvest big enough that they weren’t going to suffer the same starvation and death they had endured during the previous two winters. These early settlers were thankful they had something, anything to eat, now we as a society are so spoiled that we get pissed if the supermarket runs out of our favorite dinner rolls.
About 150 years later, after we had burned a few witches, decimated most of the indigenous peoples, and started importing cheap labor from Africa, George W (no, the other one) in remembrance of those Pilgrims, signed a proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1789 to celebrate the end of hostilities with mother England and the recent ratification of the U.S. Constitution (which of course immediately instigated what we now refer to as “American Politics”).
Then a scant 74 years later, Haywood County, North Carolina native (that’s what they say around here) turned president, Abraham Lincoln, signed a new Thanksgiving proclamation in an attempt to “heal the wounds of the nation” and to urge people to offer tender care to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.” By Honest Abe’s decree, the day-of-thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the LAST Thursday of November in perpetuity. And it stayed that way until 1939, when FDR in the midst the “great depression” moved it up a week to spur retail sales and stimulate the failed economy. (Roosevelt is responsible for Black Friday! Take that Walmart.)
So even if you had to buy some substitute bread, and as we continue to argue over the interpretation of our national laws, divided as we are into red and blue states of differing philosophies, licking the wounds of yet another long war, and struggling with a precarious economy, there still should be gracious thanks. Look across the table at your love, your child, your grandchild, or your friends, perhaps experience the joy of volunteering at your local mission, Ronald McDonald House or VA hospital, and look into the eyes of those who feel blessed because you are there. Measure the bounties of your life by whatever scales are needed, and then, today and every day, give a look up to Heaven and pray: A Happy Thanksgiving.