Setting Aside A Day Of Thanks

Susan Page
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Wednesday - November 23, 2005
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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but it’s under siege like all other celebrations that honor God.

It’s a uniquely American occasion that teaches valuable lessons. But, sadly, we now march across this once-revered time as merely a bridge between the greater retail campaigns of Halloween and Christmas.

Our children may still get the textbook story of the Pilgrims and the Indians sharing food and giving thanks, but one day, if it isn’t already, even that will be challenged by the ACLU. Teachers had better not talk about the Pilgrims thanking God, even if it’s a documented part of American history. Eerily reflective of Mao’s and Stalin’s “religion is the opiate of the masses” playbook, we are constantly challenged to cleanse our schools of “dangerous” curriculum, such as grateful settlers thanking a higher power for bestowing blessings of plenty upon them.

In case you’ve forgotten - and it’s easy to do so - the Pilgrims were from a Puritan sect of England that had first fled to Holland to escape religious persecution, but the Dutch way wasn’t for them, so they headed out aboard the Mayflower seeking a better life in a brand new land and arrived at Plymouth Rock on Dec. 11, 1620. They had a horrible first winter. Forty-six of the original 102 Mayflower passengers had died by the autumn of 1621. But that fall’s harvest was bountiful, so the surviving 56 settlers decided to celebrate with a three-day feast they shared with 91 native Americans who had helped them survive. The feast wasn’t an annual affair yet, but again in 1623, during a bad drought, the Pilgrims gathered to pray for rain. Their prayers were answered the next day with a steady, soaking rain, which prompted Gov. Bradford to proclaim another Thanksgiving day to include their Indian friends.

It wasn’t until some 56 years later that the Charlestown, Mass., governing council made a Thanksgiving observance official. Part of the Thanksgiving proclamation of 1676 reads: “The Council has thought [to] meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God’s Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being persuaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ.”

That first Thanksgiving meal didn’t look like ours today. No flour for pies, no meat other than the wild fowl they hunted and killed, no milk, potatoes or butter. But, of course, it does-n’t matter what food was on the plates. The fact that they were alive and had any sustenance was a miracle. It is noteworthy that the first settlers in what would become our nation had survived much devastation and sadness and still were grateful to be able to praise God for their blessings without persecution.

As you’re power-eating your turkey and dressing and all the fixins’ on Thanksgiving Day, I’ll be eating sushi, miso soup, tempura, sukimono and some other odd delicacies with tentacles and bulging eyeballs. While you sit at a dining table, I’ll be awkwardly adjusting my legs under a low Japanese table.

But though I will miss the traditional feast (my favorite food of all time), I will be grateful to God for the blessings of being in Iwakuni, Japan - with my son who is stationed there, my daughter, who has flown all the way from Washington, D.C., with her boyfriend, and my wonderful husband, Jerry - grateful that we can share a feast with dear friends, who don’t share our native tongue, but share the language of the heart. We will bridge differences and honor each other. And we will remember those early pioneers who, at least for that bountiful autumn, forgot race, culture and ideology and gave thanks for their saviors, both spiritual and physical.

Let us try to set aside Thanksgiving Day, apart from all other holidays, apart form that which our busy, crazy world distracts us with and give thanks to our creator for the amazing plenty that we enjoy of family, friends and religious freedom.

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