With record snow falling before mid-November this year, it has been especially hard not to slip into the Christmas mindset. The situation is compounded with retailers peddling their holiday spirit since October, which of course is no surprise. And as for the early birds with Christmas trees shimmering and lights blinking, you know who you are!
Unfortunately for many, Thanksgiving is little more than a food frenzied pitstop sandwiched between deer hunting and bargain hunting. So why is Thanksgiving the holiday we love to hurry through? Is taking time to be thankful for one day that hard?
As parents, we are quick to teach our kids to say “thank you” in the appropriate situations. Saying thanks can and should be taught, but gratitude, in my opinion, is something deeper and exposes the real sentiments of the heart. Gratitude is an attitude and ultimately not intended as a sentiment to be boxed into a twenty-four-hour spot on our calendar. So why do we set aside this one solitary day for giving thanks?
Ask any second grader and they will tell you, “We celebrate Thanksgiving because the Pilgrims and Native Americans had a feast to celebrate the wonderful harvest and they ate Turkey”. Period. End of conversation. What most of those school aged kids don’t realize is that the actual Thanksgiving Day we celebrate was birthed amidst bloodshed and not in celebration.
One hundred and fifty-six years ago our country was immersed in the deadliest conflict we have ever partaken in and it happened on our own soil. The blood of Yanks and Confederates, which of course were all Americans, flowed freely onto farmland and forest. Thousands of children were now fatherless while mothers and wives lamented for a word about sons and husbands gone but not forgotten. We can read about it, but we truly have no idea what that dismal time in our nation must have felt like. Unlikely as it may seem, this black mark in our history was ironically punctuated by of all things, Lincoln’s proclamation for a day of thanksgiving.
President Lincoln, in all his wisdom, knew that even during a polarizing civil war we needed a time to reflect and count our blessings. The first official National Day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed in October of 1863, to be celebrated every year on the last Thursday of November. If we could revisit that year, it was certainly a tall order for our nation to even consider a day for giving thanks. Americans were asked to dig deep and recall blessings and appreciate things easily taken for granted while the country was being torn apart at the seams with grief, despair and uncertainty. Who wouldn’t be hard pressed to come up with a nugget of gratitude when faced with a mountain of loss?
I believe that Lincoln knew the power of gratitude. It goes without saying that genuine gratitude cannot be legislated or upheld in a court of law. Nor can true gratitude be taught. However, if practiced, its power can change a trajectory. Who knows how this day of thanksgiving affected the minds and hearts in that day and time?
Expressed gratitude can also have the effect of chiseling away pain revealing a fresh perspective bringing light to the darkest moments. Gratitude doesn’t always bubble happily to the surface. There are times that you may have to fish for it. And just like catching a fish, the discomforts of the elements soon fade into the background when you connect with some of those blessings hiding below the surface of your life. Thankfulness, even just a little, can bring healing and soften the Grinchiest of hearts.
Lincoln’s proclamation is longer than what could be included in this column, but I believe his concluding paragraph perfectly sums up his intent.
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, 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.”
Fast forward 156 years and here we are. Thanksgiving 2019 in Fennimore, Wisconsin. An ordinary day on the calendar of our country, with an extraordinary purpose. Let’s uphold the tradition. The tradition of thanking God for all our blessings which includes giving thanks when things seem at their worst, when the world seems upside down, and when being grateful feels entirely counter-intuitive. Who knows, we just may linger a little longer for our Thanksgiving celebrations if we embrace an attitude of gratitude.