FOCUS – Thanksgiving
by Ted Horwood, Captain –
Thanksgiving is a wonderful expression of Americanism. I realize that national days for expressing gratitude are not unique to America; they occur throughout the world and have occurred throughout history. They also take differing expressions around the world. Probably the strangest national day of thanks that I ever experienced was when the one President declared a national holiday for the arrival of Mohamar Kadaffi, leader of Libya. But an American Thanksgiving seems to convey that which is characteristic of this nation.
For many it is the purest of national holidays because it has somehow not been overly tainted by commercialism, cheesy music or bank-busting expectations. Thanksgiving is a subtler, kinder holiday. Although secular, it maintains a distinguished air seasoned with love and friendship and transcending religiosity. We take the opportunity to bring family and friends together to share a meal, reflect on the year and have fellowship. It is brief respite prior to the frenzy of Christmas and all the obligations thereof.
Essentially the story, which every American child learns, goes something like this. In 1620, one hundred and two people in search of religious freedom braved the perilous North Atlantic crossing. Landing in November, they faced the severity of winter along the eastern seaboard. Fifty-five people perished before the spring thaw. But under the leadership of Governor Bradford, the “Pilgrims” were able to plant and reap a harvest of bounty that could only be attributed to the blessing of God. So, a feast of Thanks was prepared, and for three days the small community of Plymouth shared their blessings. But, community-wide commemorations of thanksgiving did not end with that small New England town.
On November 26, 1789, George Washington said, “Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday, the twenty-sixth of November next, to be devoted to the service of that great and glorious Being, for the kind care and protection of the people of this country.” He proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to honor the adoption of the Constitution. And President James Madison declared Thanksgiving Day in 1815 to celebrate the end of the War of 1812.
But in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday. He said, “I . . .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.”
An acknowledgment of God, and His blessing over our nation is an American characteristic and traditionally a part of a Thanksgiving meal. We are a people of faith.
It is not uncommon for an informal assessment of the year’s ups and downs to be included in the discussions around the table. This year has been difficult for many in our corps and institutions. Leaders are having difficulty with transitions. Budgets are shrinking, yet needs are growing. Focusing on the essence of ministry among the peripheral responsibilities can be frustrating. But we are optimistic and hopeful people. We see wonderful potential in those to whom we minister, and the organization with which we serve. We recognize the enormous bounty we have. Few of us will ever voluntarily go to bed hungry, and certainly not on Thanksgiving.
And we are a caring people. The Salvation Army once again tops the chart of non-profit recipients of philanthropic giving. Americans give more globally and locally than any other nation. I think that is because we really love people. We may not call it love, but our actions generally point to genuine concern and a desire to help. Mother Teresa reminds us that “people are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway.”
Faith, hope and love. These are pretty good characteristics of a nation, and Thanksgiving is a wonderful day to recognize them. I pray that your day will filled with rich traditions.
“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice, and be glad in it.”