Finley Peter Dunne, Chicago newspaperman and humorist, presented a view of Thanksgiving at the turn of the 20th century through Mr. Dooley, his fictional Irish saloonkeeper and philosopher. It goes like this: " 'Twas founded by th' Puritans to give thanks f'r bein' presavred fr'm th' Indyans, an' . . . we keep it to give thanks we are presarved fr'm th' Puritans."
Humor is humor, of course, and a certain latitude is granted regarding factual accuracy. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated with the "Indyans" in part as a thank you for the "Indyans" saving the Puritans from starvation. And while we may be thankful that we're not beholden to any particular religious ideology, the holiday is largely a non-secular event.
And it should be.
In my (relatively) short life span I've seen Thanksgiving marginalized between the dual commercial cornucopias of Halloween and Christmas. The sun sets on Labor day only to rise the next day on the orange, black and yellow jack-o'lanterns and witches haunting the store aisles. The sun again sets and rises the very next day magically changing the colors to the red, green and white of plastic fir trees and elves. What happened to brown?
Breathe a sigh of relief. With some exceptions, Thanksgiving has been largely spared the commercial redefinition so shamelessly--and vulgarly--hoisted upon most other holidays, including Easter. Maybe it's a vast "secular wing conspiracy" to denigrate religious holidays (remembering, of course, that Halloween is short for "All Hallowed Even", the eve of All Saints' Day). I don't know how or why but I'm glad it's mostly overlooked.
Maybe, though, it's because Americans have a soul, a soul that seeks at least some respite from merchandizing bombardment. We refused to shop, we ignored the siren song in the key of greed for "Pre-Thanksgiving Day" or "Thanksgiving Day Extravaganza" for this or that. We wanted a break, at least until Black Friday. So, the ad agencies, as anxious as a spaniel looking for a lost ball, moved on. We were left free to be thankful.
I've learned a lot about being thankful these past seven months. You see, I made some bad judgment calls a few years ago. While I cleaned up the results of my misrepresentations, the trail was still there. And my hand got called on it. Some say that being sentenced to an eight months' confinement in a federal camp for my, well, crime is "getting off easy" or a "lucky break". Maybe so. Like Jeffry Archer, though, I realized after about 10 minutes that there's nothing easy or lucky about losing even one minute of freedom.
But I'm thankful that in a few days this will be behind me. I'm thankful for my wonderful wife and kids. For a loving sister and brother-in-law, brother and sister in law, and their spouses and, yes, mother-in-law. For my attorney, friends and relatives who have supported and encourage me. For finding a 1928 Book of Common Prayer in the chapel library. And for a God who has tried to let His ways be known to me and given me a peace that the world cannot give. As for the material things for which I am-and ought to be-thankful, they are but vanities.
For those of you that can, gather up your family and dinner guests on Thanksgiving and be thankful that you have and can hold each other. Be thankful that we live in the greatest country on earth--founded, yes, largely by "th' Puritans"--that has had yet another election without mobs and violence. Be thankful for your freedom, something that I know we all take for granted, and never, ever take it for granted.
If you can while you're gathered together, sing the first verse of Henry Alford's hymn "Come Ye Thankful People Come" and say the following prayer:
"O most merciful Father, who has blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; we give humble and hearty thanks for this Thy bounty; beseeching Thee to continue Thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to Thy glory and our comfort, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."
I know I would if I were home.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving...and be thankful!