Thanksgiving is a special time to take stock of the many blessings we have received throughout the year. Here in America, we have two competing claims for the first Thanksgiving — The well-known Pilgrim story at Plymouth Colony in 1621, and my adopted home of Virginia laying claim with the Jamestown Colony in 1607. That more people are aware of the Plymouth Colony’s celebration goes to show the power of Common Ground (it was a joint colonist-Indian feast).
Our modern Thanksgiving Day traces its origins to the Civil War, when President Lincoln established the last Thursday in November 1863 as a national day of Thanksgiving, giving thanks for the many blessings of our land despite the terrible war that raged. The tradition was followed by succeeding presidents and finally enshrined in law by our Congress in 1941, establishing the 4th Thursday in November as a national holiday.
Why is this important? I think so, and for several reasons. First, Thanksgiving encourages us to take a moment and give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy. And whom should we thank? Some of the obvious people are those who make a difference in our lives — those who do so daily, such as our families and close friends; those who nurtured us in the past, such as teachers, coaches, and mentors. Let’s not forget those who made it possible to freely celebrate this holiday in America–the Patriots who fought to gain our freedom, and those who have served to protect it. Finally, We should take a moment to consider the ultimate source of our feast, and give thanks to God, or at least acknowledge the universal power that runs our universe if you are not religiously inclined.
Giving thanks is also acknowledging the debt–the gifts and blessings–we owe those who have been so generous with us. While one is not obliged to repay a gift freely given, a spirit of gratitude calls for us to show such gratitude by returning the favor. Being reminded of that debt on Thanksgiving day, I encourage you to think about how you might “return the favor” or perhaps “pay it forward” if you have no other way to express your gratitude for your blessings.
So go enjoy your traditions, whether they be Turkey or Veggie Burgers, football, parades, or charades. But take a moment to reflect and decide to act on the ideas you create to show your gratitude for those in your life who are the blessings that make it all worth living.
As for me, I am very grateful for my family and for those who have been generous with me over the years. So we will be celebrating Thanksgiving at home — Ellen and the boys — and about a half dozen assorted friends of the family who need a place to hang out and be with people who care about them. Its our chance to pay it forward, am I am thankful for that privilege.
Have a Hearty Thanksgiving Holiday!