Spirit of gratitude is what really
matters while celebrating Thanksgiving
Monday, December 02, 2013 2:23 AM
I quote the fountain of true holiday spirit, Linus Van Pelt of Charlie Brown fame, "In the year 1621, the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving feast. They invited the great Indian chief Massasoit, who brought 90 of his brave Indians and a great abundance of food. Governor William Bradford and Captain Miles Standish were honored guests. Elder William Brewster, who was a minister, said a prayer that went something like this: 'We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land. We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world for freedom and justice.'"
This "first" Thanksgiving may or may not have happened, but it was then a tradition of Pilgrims and Puritans to hold days of thanksgiving according to their religious conscience. These holidays were held to give thanks to God for their harvest, religious freedom and family.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica online, a national day of Thanksgiving was announced shortly after the Constitution of the United States was established. After dispute over the federal government promoting a religious observance like Thanksgiving, state legislatures retained power to declare their own day of Thanksgiving from 1798 until 1863.
President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving Day during the Civil War to occur on the last Thursday of November. Northern dominance all but forced the South to comply once the Union was re-established. President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to move the holiday back a week in order to extend the shopping season, but compromised with Congress in setting Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday of November. All this is according to David J. Silverman, an assistant professor in the history department at Wayne State University.
The evolution of America's day of thanksgiving is very interesting. Both religious and secular factors have played large roles in determining how it is observed. Forming the backbone of Thanksgiving is the feeling of gratitude. Take away gratefulness and you lose the essence of Thanksgiving.
We do not need a day of thanksgiving in order to feel grateful. In a column I wrote around Mother's Day, I said holidays "act as helpful reminders of values, events and people whom we can so easily take for granted the rest of the year. They help us reflect. They help us consciously reconnect with thoughts and feelings we desire to keep with us at all times. The holiday itself isn't important; rather, it is what is celebrated or remembered."
What did you celebrate and remember on your day of thanksgiving?
As one who believes that God is the source of all the blessings in my life, I identify with Linus' quotation of Elder Brewster's prayer. I realize there are many people who observe Thanksgiving in a more secular manner. Both can have gratitude form the backbone of their observance. After all, Thanksgiving is only one day. Having a grateful attitude is something we should strive to make a part of our daily lives.
Now, I realize much has been said about stores being open on Thanksgiving and the general saturation of commercialism in the media. Some have been heralding this as the end of Thanksgiving and all things holy, others have been stiffly promoting this as economic progress and only that, while others haven't batted an eye and just continued on indifferent to the whole hoopla.
Thanksgiving is a federal holiday. It isn't going anywhere anytime soon. However, the reason for the day is changing. Its essence is being usurped, at least on the level of the media, entertainment and retail.
Thanksgiving is a day of giving thanks. Giving thanks is selfless. It causes a person to be more introspective, more humble. It brings quietude and stillness of soul. It causes remembrance. In short, being sincerely grateful instead of paying lip service to the things we are grateful for is very good for our personal wellbeing.
It is my perception that we have been slowly trading these benefits of Thanksgiving Day for the complete opposite. Football games, while they can gather a family, also bring noise and contention that can disrupt feelings of gratitude. Black Friday, while great for finding gifts for others, has also promoted selfishness to a large degree. Unfortunately, some retail stores even decided to open on Thanksgiving.
These things don't destroy Thanksgiving Day itself, but that's not important. These things erode the spirit of Thanksgiving. It is that spirit of gratitude that we should try to have with us today and tomorrow. The culture changes, but it really is a personal choice whether you accept it or not.
What will help you feel more grateful than you were yesterday?
That's what matters.