This coming Thursday many families will observe the national Thanksgiving holiday, often characterized by family members coming together for fun, football, and a feast, quite often roasted turkey with all the trimmings. From my earliest memories, I remember our Thanksgiving meals, grateful for my family coming together.
The true origins of Thanksgiving go back to ancient times when local tribes and peoples gave thanks to the gods for a successful or bountiful harvest for example the Jewish harvest festival of sukkot. Since ancient times the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the harvest. Historians note that Native Americans also had an annual tradition of merrymaking and feasting commemorating the fall harvest long before the Europeans ever set foot on these shores.
Our Catholic Christian faith is built on the virtue of gratitude. We are grateful for all that we have and are, recognizing everything we have is God’s gift, especially as we gather around the family table on our national holiday to pray and give thanks. Looking back, I surmise that like you, I grew up with a fairly romanticized view of this day, how the first pilgrims joined with the Native Americans near a place they named Plymouth in a region that became the state of Massachusetts. They gathered with great equanimity and harmony. Reading the history of this feast on history.com is enlightening for all Americans.
What struck me when I reread the short article on that website was that Abraham Lincoln who finally heeded the request of Sarah Josepha Hale to declare a national day of Thanksgiving added this thought. At the height of the Civil War in 1863, he entreated all American to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” Franklin Roosevelt finally declared it would occur on the fourth Thursday in November. Lincoln saw the value of prayer for us and for our nation.
I think his entreaty is even more true today as we thank God for the opportunity to be able to gather together on Thursday, to pray not only a blessing over the food we eat, but to pray for those who are on the margins of society, to pray in a special way for the evacuees from the fires in our state, an end to gun violence, and above all to promote peace among peoples and nations. Happy Thanksgiving!
Father Larry Hendel, Pastor