Thanksgiving began as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and the bounty of the preceding year. The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is deeply rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November period on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated. Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest, which the Pilgrims celebrated with Native Americans, who helped them get through the previous winter by giving them food during a time of scarcity.
Modern Thanksgiving was proclaimed for all states in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln who set the national Thanksgiving by proclamation explicitly in celebration of the bounties that had continued to fall on the Union and for the military successes in the war. Because of the ongoing Civil War, a nationwide Thanksgiving celebration was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.
On October 31, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a presidential proclamation that would formally observe the holiday on the last Thursday in November, for business reasons. On December 26, 1941, he signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday in November.
Has the spirit of those early Thanksgivings been lost? Have we forgotten why we commemorate this special day? Has it become, like other holidays, less a time to express gratitude and more a time to shop for a new car, a mattress, or carbo load for the marathon of Black Friday mall jogging? Is it no longer a day to demonstrate thanks but one dedicated to watching football and televised parades? And why has the quintessential family holiday become the Olympics of squabbling among relatives at the dinner table?
Why have holidays like Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and Veterans Day become days of consumer spending and conspicuous consumption in place of the important reasons for those observances?
Maybe one of the few positive aspects of the deadly scourge of COVID-19 which has assaulted so many and altered the routines of virtually every American life is the opportunity to take stock in what the Thanksgiving holiday is really about. After all, taking stock is one of the things that is at the root of acts of thanksgiving.
For the last nine months many of us have been hunkered down living in our own bunkers and bubbles. Being physically distanced from friends and family has created loneliness and depression. Some have experienced life shattering job loss, economic distress and empty kitchen tables and pantries. And if we were fortunate enough not to suffer directly, we have not been able to avoid the never-ending media coverage of death and devastation. Lines at foodbanks are longer than anyone has seen since the soup lines of the great depression. Recreational shopping and browsing in department stores and other retail shops is a distant memory. For many of us, trips from home have been made only when absolutely necessary for groceries or doctor visits. Worshippers have been unable to congregate in communal spaces but rather forced to join in prayer with others through Zoom or YouTube. Vacations have been cancelled. Distance learning for students is the new model for education. And there have been so many more sacrifices and losses that many of us feel like we are movie extras on the set of a sci-fi film with a story line too implausible to be true. We are living in a virtual world where we are virtually exhausted as we crave for a return to our old normal. Our new normal feels full of voids and losses. Our wants have given way to our needs. And our needs are in no way depriving most of us in the way the least among us have been denied their basic necessities.
Thanksgiving 2020 is the perfect opportunity to change our patterns of self-indulgence, needless purchases, moderation in eating and imbibing and a time to focus on others rather than ourselves. Expressing thanks, each in our own way, for having come through the pandemic healthy in mind, body and spirit should be the way we celebrate Thanksgiving. An even better way is to think about those who have not been so blessed and who can benefit and appreciate any gesture of help and compassion we can offer. Donations to food banks, homeless shelters, communal feeding programs, and worthy causes that deliver direct services to those in need is a way to meaningfully express our gratitude for all the blessings we have experienced and the dangers that have passed us by.
A little wine with your Thanksgiving dinner is fine. But a little whine for all that we miss and wish we had is a selfishness that neither serves us or others well.
I’ve read comments from people who are complaining that they can’t find or get certain products when they go to the grocery. Those folks should be thankful that they have the ability to go to the store at all with money in their pocket to at least buy the basics if not the luxuries they’d like. It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting!
Others have complained that our Phoenix temperatures have been unseasonably warm causing air conditioners to be turned on even in November. I wish they would think about those living on the street or in sub standard housing with no air conditioning or no money to pay the costs of running their A/C. It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting!
For those who miss visits with their children or grandchildren, please think about those with no family at all or those who have lost family members to COVID-19 this year. It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting!
It’s time to count your blessings for all you have. And for the people, things and activities that are not able to be enjoyed, know that for most, this will pass and those things we miss will end. While for others, those things will never again be part of their lives. It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting!
Maybe you remember the phrase that was once bandied about frivolously: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” It has been attributed to Malcolm Forbes, but whoever said it deserves to be noted for being able to get it out while throwing up a little in the back of his mouth. Easy words coming from a billionaire. But ask the child who has no gifts of toys at the holidays how it feels. It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting!
Perhaps you remember the phrase: “I wish I was Barbie cause the bitch has everything.” Another disgustingly glib line which revealed the unhealthy envy and jealousy some felt because others had more of something or more of everything than they did. Wrong then…even more wrong today. It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting!
In Proverbs 22:1 it is written that: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” Whether you are religious or not, this is the perfect season in a very imperfect year to think about our priorities and what matters most. It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting!
During this time of year in many parts of the country leaves are falling from trees. If you come across a fallen leaf consider picking it up and turning it over. Yes, turn over a new leaf and take stock of what this season is all about. It’s Thanksgiving NOT Thanksgetting!
For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/