"The message of Thanksgiving is gratitude and recognition of the blessings we have in our lives."
As we approach the end of the November, Americans often busy themselves with plans for the Thanksgiving holiday. It is a hectic time of year that involves much travelling and preparing the home to receive guests and of course cooking. All of this can be quite stressful, but I have always found Thanksgiving to be one of my favorite holidays probably second only to Halloween. I have fond childhood memories or helping my grandmother make stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce the night before Thanksgiving and awakening to the smell of roasting turkey in the morning. It is a day to be grateful for the blessings that we have and to spend time with people who are important to us that we may not get to see that often. Recently, I have been thinking about the origins of Thanksgiving and have come to the conclusion that there are deep spiritual aspects to this annual late harvest festival that are often overlooked and have thought of some simple rituals and meditations that can be done on or around Thanksgiving to truly give thanks.
Different cultures and faiths throughout history have held days of Thanksgiving to give thanks for particular blessings received. In the Catholic Church there is a service called the Te Deum which is meant for this purpose and throughout history has been used to give thanks when great disasters have been averted or in honor of miracles received. Starting with the Protestant Reformation, many of the reformed churches of Northern Europe called for random days of Thanksgiving throughout the year to replace previously held Catholic feast days. Such days mainly consisted of fasting and prayer rather than the feasting we are so familiar with today. The first Thanksgiving service held on what is today US territory occurred in Saint Augustine, Florida on September 8th 1565 among Spanish Catholic settlers, but the Thanksgiving story with which we are most familiar occurred in Plymouth, Massachusetts in November of 1621. The Puritan settlers, popularly known as The Pilgrims, held three days of feasting to celebrate surviving their first year in the harsh, unfamiliar territory. Throughout the colonial period in New England, days of Thanksgiving were declared sporadically by the governors, but it was not until the 1860’s that Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an annual national holiday thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, a popular 19th century columnist and magazine editor who had been campaigning for decades to get politicians nationwide to recognize the holiday. Lincoln hoped that instituting a national day of Thanksgiving would foster a sense of unity between north and south. Initially, many southerners refused to celebrate the holiday seeing it as a northern or “Yankee” tradition and it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that Thanksgiving was universally celebrated across the country.
I realize that among peoples native to the Americas, Thanksgiving is often seen as a holiday that glorifies the arrival of white settlers and the beginning of the destruction of their way of life, so I was a bit hesitant to write this blog post, but I want to make clear that I am emphasizing the importance to gratitude and giving thanks rather than commemorating any one historical. I have a friend who has Navajo and Black Foot ancestry and she told me that she celebrates Thanksgiving and it is one of her favorite holidays. She sees it as a time to celebrate the rich history of the original inhabitants of the Americas and says that no matter what difficulties anybody faces, we can always find things for which to be thankful. We can and should give thanks every day, but this holiday provides a perfect opportunity to do so in a bigger way with friends and loved ones.
From a spiritual standpoint, giving thanks is extremely important as living in a state of gratitude makes life more pleasant, curtails greed and invites peace into our lives. It’s certainly acceptable to want new things, more money, to take exotic vacations, buy our dream home-all of this is wonderful and these are goals we should strive for, but not without stopping to be thankful for what we do have at any given moment and sharing our good fortune with others. We have all known people who have a disproportionate sense of entitlement and whose lives are ruled by greed and avarice. I think we can agree that these are usually not pleasant people to be around and their pessimistic view of the world tends to bring others down. This type of attitude is easily combated. It is as simple as stopping to think of all that we have to be thankful for on our journey through life. I have developed a simple ritual that may be done any time of year, but is meant to bring special meaning to the Thanksgiving season.
At some point during Thanksgiving Day, or even the night before, just take a few quiet moments for yourself and light a white candle. Reflect for a moment of the things you have in your life that you value and are important to you. Mentally or out loud thank offer thanks for all of these things. You can thank God or the universe, your ancestors, your favorite saints or spirits according to your personal beliefs. Then as you set about your preparations for the day, allow the candle to burn out on its own as a symbol of the true meaning of the holiday. You may also wish to make a small donation to charity, attend a communal Thanksgiving service at a church or temple or simply spend some time with friends or family as a way of commemorating this special time of year.
I personally believe that each holiday has its own message of theme. The message of Thanksgiving is without a doubt gratitude and recognition of the blessings we have in our lives. As always, I thank you for visiting my blog and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and abundant blessings!