Thursday, December 15, 2011

Revive the religious aspect of Thanksgiving

Published: Saturday, November 26, 2011

THANKSGIVING Day 2011 is now a matter of history. Memories replace the anticipation of a sumptuous meal and the gathering of family members and friends.

Regularly scheduled television programming returns after the continuous stream of football games and floats from the Macy’s parade come to an end.

Black Friday is over, too, for those who wanted to start their Christmas shopping early. In response, I staged my own protest. Getting up early in the morning — this year some stores opened at midnight — to find the best sale was a temptation easy to resist. More importantly, I was and continue to be unwilling to make such a quick transition from the day explicitly devoted to giving thanks. This message is so easy to get lost.

Sarah Josepha Hale held a similar view more than 140 years ago. Knowing that celebrations were held across the country at various times of the year, she attempted unsuccessfully to convince six presidents to establish a nationally recognized holiday.

Not defeated, she wrote to President Abraham Lincoln. He embraced the idea and selected the last Thursday in November for that purpose. His first proclamation in 1863 included some of the following words:

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of almighty God.”

Thanksgiving Day was changed in 1941 to be observed on the fourth Thursday in November. Since then, every president has offered similar proclamations. It is now an American custom and institution. In its articulation and practice, Thanksgiving Day has become more of a secular holiday.

In the process, the original message has gotten lost. The bounties have been forgotten or, at least, taken for granted. The sense of deep gratefulness and gratitude for blessings received is missing from many tables. More than that, though, the religious nature of the holiday has become less prominent.

Reclaiming it is a worthy undertaking because there is much for which to be thankful. From A to Z, here’s a list: ability, beauty, children, daily bread, electricity, family, grace, health, ice cream, jobs, kindness, laughter, mothers, neighbors, opportunity, purpose, quiet, rest, survival, talent, understanding, voice, water, X-rays, years and zeniths. Each of us can develop our own list.

At the top of mine is almighty God, the source from which all blessings flow. They come all the time and in all ways, despite our troubles, foibles, frailties and imperfections. For this reason, every day is Thanksgiving Day and each day is a day to give thanks to God.

The Rev. Bonita Grubbs is executive director of Christian Community Action, 168 Davenport Ave., New Haven 06519. E-mail: bgrubbs@ccahelping.org.

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