Thanksgiving - "giving thanks to whom and for what?"

If you are lucky, you have family and close friends to share a Thanksgiving meal with this week.  For many, it is an abundance of food, football and catching up with family we do not see enough.  For others it could be an emotional day of old wounds, heated disagreements or just plain loneliness.  Wherever you are on Thursday, I pray it is a day of “giving thanks” for you.  Thanksgiving became an official American holiday in 1864 during the Civil War, per proclamation of the President, “Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.”  Lincoln’s intent was to bring us together and to remember that we share the same creator that provides everything we have.

There is some dispute as to the date of the actual first American Thanksgiving.  Some recognize September 9, 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida.  Native America Timucuan Indians and Spanish settlers held a feast and celebrated Holy Mass, at a makeshift altar, in gratitude to God.  Others point to April 30, 1598, Spanish settlers in the land north of the Rio Grande, requested the friars to say a Mass of Thanksgiving.  (Note that Eucharist means “thanksgiving.”)  Most grew up with images of the fall of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts when the Puritan Pilgrims celebrated a meal with the Native American Wampanoag to celebrate and give thanks for this harvest and blessings.  At that three day celebration was Squanto, a local native had been enslaved by the English and later freed by Spanish Franciscans, becoming baptized into the Catholic faith before returning to New England and helping the Pilgrims survive the harsh winters and thrive in the new land that they shared.

Regardless of when the actual first Thanksgiving was celebrated, what is clear is the intent of the day – to pause and give thanks, as a community, to God.  Without God we would not have life, hope or any of the other gifts we have in life.  Humbly remembering that reality and taking time together to acknowledge it not a bad way to spend a few moments of this celebration. 

A few things that I will be thankful for this year will be:

A mother and father who had put family first to raise four great siblings (and me).

A wonderful family who lives close and is always there with love, caring and encouragement.

Two amazingly beautiful (inside and out) daughters who I am blessed to be the father of.

A most incredible woman I have ever known whom I am so lucky to have shared the last thirty years of my life with as my bride.  She is my best friend, my love and my life, and I smile every morning when I get to spend another day with her.

Finally, as Don MacLean put it, “the three men I admire most, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.” 

I try to stop to thank God, every single day, for all the blessings and love he pours out on me.  I don’t always act as if I am truly grateful or appreciate how blessed I am and how I owe everything to him, including each breath I take, but I try to remember it each time I sit at the Thanksgiving table and look around at my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, daughters and my wife.  I hope your day of “giving thanks” is an extra-special one, and invite someone over or say a prayer for someone that may not be as blessed this Thanksgiving Day.