“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.”
-Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1328)
It’s Thanksgiving again, though this will appear in the “Black Friday” edition of the newspaper I work for.
The Friday after Thanksgiving is popularly known as Black Friday, because of the heavy shopping on that day, which takes many stores out of the red and hopefully back into the black for a while.
Since ancient times, agricultural peoples have held festivals of thanksgiving around harvest time. In ages when crop failures meant starvation in the coming year, it’s a safe bet the thanks were pretty heartfelt.
Our Thanksgiving follows traditions going back to Old Testament times, but has evolved some very American features.
On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred on the north bank of the James River.
The group’s charter proclaimed the anniversary of their landing a day of thanksgiving. “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
In 1621 the celebration at the Plymouth Plantation we think of as the first Thanksgiving was held after a successful growing season, following the first dreadful winter in which half the colonists died of starvation and disease. Fifty-three pilgrims and 90 Indians feasted for three days. The meal included: wild turkey, corn, squash, boiled pumpkin and cranberries, all native to America and introduced to Europeans by the Indians.
During the Revolutionary War, George Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December, 1777 as a celebration of the victory over the British at Saratoga. As President, Washington proclaimed on October 3, 1789, the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the new government of the United States.
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, celebrated on the final Thursday in November, 1863.
Thanksgiving became a national holiday on December 26, 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill setting the fourth Thursday of November as the official date of Thanksgiving.
All of these celebrations were held during, or immediately after dark and terrible times.
I’m spending this Thanksgiving Day with my family, which is something to be thankful for.
Then I’m going to Wisconsin to visit one of my half-dozen oldest friends, who’s undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
I’m taking my son – at my wife’s suggestion. I don’t think many American women would have suggested that. He won’t understand now, but in years to come he’ll learn the central lesson of Thanksgiving – appreciate what you’ve got because things could be a lot worse.
I don’t have a lot of money right now, but I’ve got a job. That’s certainly something to be thankful for these days. Furthermore I love my job, and believe me that makes life a lot more pleasant than the alternative. The most miserable job I’ve had in my life paid about four times my present income, and I couldn’t wait to leave it behind.
And I’ve got a family. That makes up for some miserable holidays spent alone.
My life has turned out such that if I didn’t wake up tomorrow, I’d have no complaints. (Well of course I wouldn’t because I’d be dead, but you know what I mean.)
Bad times I’ve lived through make me thankful for my present happiness. Which makes memories that will sustain me should bad times return.
And Happy Thanksgiving to you all!