Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Be thankful and then gobble all you can get
On your right
Here we are, teetering on the edge of Thanksgiving, the quintessentially American holiday that marks the beginning of the annual descent into the maelstrom of avarice that Christmas has become in our increasingly secular age. This Thursday, as we gather for our yearly bout of tryptophan and football, perhaps we ought to pause a moment and consider both our present circumstances and the meaningful history of the meal we share.
The first “Thanksgiving,” the one celebrated with iconically insulting stereotypes all around, was not called that as far as is recorded. It was a three-day celebration of many things: survival, for the half of the Pilgrim population still alive after one year in their new-found land; bounty brought on by the instruction and cooperation of native Americans; friendship with the Wampanoag tribe, a mutually beneficial relationship that lasted half a century. All things for which one could understandably give thanks, and, to Gov. William Bradford, evidence of “God’s Providence” and the special nature of the Plymouth community.
In 1789, George Washington made the holiday semi-official in a proclamation calling for a national day of “thanksgiving and prayer” for the successful conclusion of the colonial War of Independence and the formation of the new national government under the recently-ratified Constitution. Washington saw this as necessary, and the nation so created as being dedicated to “… the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is or that will be.”
Seventy-four years later, a few weeks after he delivered his ill-received Gettysburg address, Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to pray that God “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and that he “heal the wounds of the nation.” He set the last Thursday in November aside for the purpose, where it remained until Franklin Roosevelt moved the date forward a week in 1939, in an attempt to give Depression-wracked retail sales a boost. It didn’t hold.
Historically, Thanksgiving has been a religiously-involved, if not religious, holiday. With its common themes of survival, redemption, favor, healing and providential bounty, it appropriately marks the beginning of the season of reflection on the state of the world and of our relationship with it, with our country and with our fellow sojourners in this life. There is much to consider.
First, an aside to those now fuming at the page, muttering that Thanksgiving is a thoroughly secular holiday: Congratulations, you have correctly determined that it is not part of the cycle of feast days of any church. But for what are we called to give thanks? Our success in out-snaking our competitors in the rush to buy the latest iPhone? Our smug self-satisfaction in knowing that we have a newer Lexus than the guy down the block? And to whom or what are we to bid thanks? Ourselves, for our unscrupulousness or guile? If this is the extent of one’s understanding, best put the meal off until reflection lends a more sober light. Too much patting of one’s own back can lead to cramping.
This is an enormously gifted and bountiful country, in some ways far exceeding the dreams of those who celebrated that first Thanksgiving. It has been made so by generations of diligence; by people who seized their opportunities and made what they could of them, following the admonition that hard work is a way to honor those who bore us and that irreducible providence that guides us. They prospered and in doing so, prospered the country.
On Thursday and during the month to come, there will be opportunities to ponder the how and why of our achievements. The residents of Plymouth Colony knew after their first deadly year in the New World who to thank and for what and how. They thanked God for their survival and plenty, which they saw as evidence of divine favor, and they invited their Native American friends to celebrate with them. We could learn much from their approach, which takes as its beginning the understanding that we are not alone, nor are we entirely the authors of our fate — and that a celebration of this understanding is necessary from time to time.
Before the turkey is sliced or the ham laid out might be a good time to think on this and to share the thought with those who are present. It might also be good to think on those who cannot be. Before the pie would be okay as well. But definitely before football sets in.
Happy Thanksgiving, and may God continue to bless these United States.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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