Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks for Thanksgiving

As an American, I'm not always particularly proud of our cultural exports. Halloween, for example, came into vogue in Europe while I was living there; and not all of Hollywood's values make me want to stand up and say, "That's us!"

Thanksgiving is different. And what is ironic is that I don't know of other countries besides Canada that have instituted this tradition on a national level. (Prove me wrong by posting a comment!)

On this 4th Thursday of the month of November, we stop to remember how blessed we are. Not that celebrations of thanksgiving have never been held in other cultures; harvest festivals have been a tradition of cultures worldwide since recorded history began. But the feast that has become an annual holiday in the United States is generally attributed to an offering of thanks not for copious material blessings, but for mere survival. The Pilgrims who had come to the New World from England in search of the freedom to practice their religion in the way their convictions dictated were thankful just to have made it through their first winter. And this would not have been possible were it not for the providential help of a Patuxet Native American named Squanto. You should take a moment to read this remarkable story some time.

The first national declaration of Thanksgiving was made by the Continental Congress in 1777, but it was not declared an annual holiday until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of a civil war that was tearing his nation apart, made the following resolution:

"... to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union...."

How radical and completely counter-intuitive. In some of the darkest days of this young nation's history, a leader urging his people to unite on two principles -- gratitude and penitence.

The tough times we're facing right now are a cake walk compared to many of the ordeals our ancestors went through. Is it possible that one of the divine laws of the universe might be that gratitude not only comes after deliverance, but also precedes it?

Here is one thankful heart that a day has been set aside for something that is actually intended to be a way of life for us.

May we all live lives of gratitude.

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