Forget 'Friendsgiving': Remember to Be Grateful Today
According to theatlantic.com, "Friendsgiving" has "become a widely celebrated holiday in its own right," one that, among many Americans, may be replacing traditional Thanksgiving celebrations. For these people, the holiday is not so much a time to gather with family for a traditional meal as it is time for a casual party for friends celebrating...whatever.
Millennials can celebrate as they wish, but a lot of things are lost when Thanksgiving becomes Friendsgiving. For one thing, the connection with our first Thanksgiving — so beautifully evoked in two columns from 1961, "the Desolate Wilderness" and "the Fair Land," republished every Thanksgiving in the Wall Street Journal. Along with this connection is the tacit knowledge that Thanksgiving celebrates the providential nature of our national identity: America is a land of great opportunity and bountiful rewards. Thanksgiving, first proclaimed by President George Washington, has always been a holiday associated with patriotism. Friendsgiving is not.
It is not just a celebration of our bountiful land. To whom are we giving thanks? Implicit in the word "Thanksgiving" is the fact that the richness of life in America, and life itself, is a gift from God. The importance of God in Thanksgiving is evinced by the sense of respect, appreciation, and awe that arises when the company gather around the table and the traditional Thanksgiving meal is brought out. Again, this seems to have been lost on many who celebrate Friendsgiving.
At the core of Thanksgiving is gratitude, and with it a sense of humility. On this day we celebrate all that we have received, much of which we have earned but some of which has surely been conferred on us by others, including our parents and grandparents, and by the good fortune of living in "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
So it is another Thanksgiving and time to consider our blessings.
Most of the things I am thankful for are the same as last year — the same, in fact, every year.
I am grateful for a family that is close to me and that bring happiness and hope for the future, and whom I've been privileged to be able to serve and protect. Men and women are not meant to live alone, and family is the deepest form of connection we have.
My other "family" is the collection of thinkers whom I've come to know through books, articles, online sites, and in person. I'm grateful for the many thousands of books I've read, from Plato, Dostoevsky, and Faulkner when I was young to Hayek and Alasdair MacIntyre later in life. This education continues and hopefully will never end.
Although much of my life has been lived through books, I have also enjoyed an active life filled with work, friends, exercise, gardening, music, travel, and other activities, and I am grateful for all of it. Like most people, work has consumed much of my life, but I've found time to learn and just have fun in ways unrelated to work. The most memorable of these are the times when I have pushed things to the edge and taken some risk: my first marathon, a music performance in front of hundreds of discerning listeners, appearances as keynote speaker, travel to unknown and sometimes unsafe regions. I've taken some risks and come out alive.
As a child growing up in the American heartland, I had the blessings of health, safety, and proper teachings. I was brought up in a conservative and religious culture, which shaped my future life.
In this culture, everyone worked and did his best. Food didn't magically appear on the table or from some drive-through window: people worked to produce it, transport it, sell it, and prepare it. We knew who these people were, and we played our own part in it, never questioning that it was a privilege to produce and sell, and knowing that there were places on earth where that privilege did not exist. The Soviet Union was our enemy because it threatened our livelihood, our churches, our freedom of speech, and other basic freedoms. We knew, without speaking of it, that we must be willing to die to protect our liberty.
My childhood was demanding, but it was morally unambiguous and in that sense untroubled in ways that must trouble many children today. Drug use was unheard of, and divorce was rare as well. Most married women did not work, so children were protected by mothers at home. It was safe to play outside and even to wander because everyone knew one's neighbors, and a stranger on our streets would have been singled out and reported. One of society's first obligations is to protect childhood, and our society did so.
In that childhood, there was opportunity for genuine play and use of the imagination. The prairie stretched for hundreds of miles with nothing but little towns and a great deal of wheat and blue sky, and I came to believe that I could accomplish something of value in life. I fear that young people today, growing up indoors with screens in place of imagination and less freedom to roam, may not develop that bedrock faith in the possibilities of life. Cynicism is the great enemy of life, and there is a huge amount of it going around today.
Finally, and above all, I am grateful for God's love. I have faced hardships — with some serious medical challenges, I have even walked "through the shadow of the valley of death" — but I have never lost faith in the existence of a loving and all-powerful God. I believe in the goodness of life and that life is purposeful and meaningful.
I may not be the brightest kid on the block, but I know what I believe, what works, and what is real. I know that life is good and worth living, and that each day I can make things better. I've lived by that belief for a very long time, and on this Thanksgiving, as on every other, I'm grateful for the beauty and joy it has brought me.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).
Image via Stock-Free.
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