Feeling grateful on Thanksgiving

For many. Thanksgiving is the best day of the year.  Others may be dreading this day, perhaps bogged down by issues spanning health, finances, death, relationships, or work; some are to the point of being overwhelmed, wondering how or why they should be thankful.  For some people this is merely a date on the calendar, involving food they eat once a year with relatives they’re obligated to visit, just hoping the NFL lined up three good games.  Perhaps you’re simply alone and celebrating Thanksgiving seems a moot point. Whatever our sentiments, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to examine our hearts.  Possessing gratitude involves more than an act of expressing thanks, or counting our blessings during life’s lows, or feeling jubilant during life’s highs.  We have an opportunity to view life’s highs and lows as a sequence of events that transforms us for the better, if we allow – ultimately, that’s what we should be thankful for this Thursday.  Gratefulness is a state of mind, not a state of condition, a function of feelings or a response to circumstances.  That’s what a group of British settlers experienced in 1621, along the coast of Massachusetts. 

America’s Day of Thanks originated as a celebration of the three-day, English Harvest Festival, in 1621, with the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims.  In 1623, these settlers then initiated “Thanksgiving,” a day of prayer and fasting. These two holidays were effectively consolidated by President George Washington, with his Thanksgiving Proclamation, in 1789.  Centuries removed from that first harvest festival, I sense that the modern caricature of the participants and events at Plymouth, changing demographics in this country, ten hours of pro football, political differences, Black Friday Thursday night, and the sheer passage of time have collectively jaded our understanding of why we celebrate this day.

Reflecting on that Harvest Festival in 1621, it’s an enlightening account of what motivated a group of 102 religious separatists to leave a world they knew, to travel to a world that few knew and for which they weren’t sure they would even reach; followed by illumination of their character after reaching that destination.  In an era so different from ours, 53 surviving refugees experienced life lessons that transcend creed, ethnicity, attitudes, culture, technology and time.  Spanning their persecution in Europe, a treacherous voyage and that first year in which half of them perished, these life trials, in retrospect, exposed them to the following:

  • Finding joy in the presence of sorrow
  • Thankfulness for each other
  • Freedom to follow your Belief System (at least four Belief Systems converged at that first Festival)
  • Freedom of speech should be tempered by personal decency, not external controls
  • Pursue conviction with your heart, mind and spirit.  In times of plenty, compassion, not compulsion, inspires you to share the spoils with those in need.  This is the right thing to do -- and makes society better
  • The true test of compassion is when those in need share the spoils with others in need.  Outward focus, during times of trial, was on display at that first festival and is one of the toughest things to do -- it’s the basis of empathy and makes us better as individuals
  • As a society, we find strength through our uniqueness -- of knowledge, skills, interests, giftedness, temperament, spirit and perspective.  These differences are unified through empathy.
  • The greater good is the aggregate of individual accountability
  • Never assume you are owed something but be grateful for everything (even adversity)
  • As individuals, we are defined, remembered and destined by the actions of our convictions
  • When the pursuit of your conviction doesn’t materialize, never give up.  Adversity cowers in the shadow of sustaining hope.

Rather than becoming bitter, these experiences made the surviving group stronger.  Sadly, some of these settlers lost sight of these lessons and would eventually become the people they had fled.

Happy Day of Gratefulness as another holiday season begins!

For many. Thanksgiving is the best day of the year.  Others may be dreading this day, perhaps bogged down by issues spanning health, finances, death, relationships, or work; some are to the point of being overwhelmed, wondering how or why they should be thankful.  For some people this is merely a date on the calendar, involving food they eat once a year with relatives they’re obligated to visit, just hoping the NFL lined up three good games.  Perhaps you’re simply alone and celebrating Thanksgiving seems a moot point. Whatever our sentiments, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to examine our hearts.  Possessing gratitude involves more than an act of expressing thanks, or counting our blessings during life’s lows, or feeling jubilant during life’s highs.  We have an opportunity to view life’s highs and lows as a sequence of events that transforms us for the better, if we allow – ultimately, that’s what we should be thankful for this Thursday.  Gratefulness is a state of mind, not a state of condition, a function of feelings or a response to circumstances.  That’s what a group of British settlers experienced in 1621, along the coast of Massachusetts. 

America’s Day of Thanks originated as a celebration of the three-day, English Harvest Festival, in 1621, with the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims.  In 1623, these settlers then initiated “Thanksgiving,” a day of prayer and fasting. These two holidays were effectively consolidated by President George Washington, with his Thanksgiving Proclamation, in 1789.  Centuries removed from that first harvest festival, I sense that the modern caricature of the participants and events at Plymouth, changing demographics in this country, ten hours of pro football, political differences, Black Friday Thursday night, and the sheer passage of time have collectively jaded our understanding of why we celebrate this day.

Reflecting on that Harvest Festival in 1621, it’s an enlightening account of what motivated a group of 102 religious separatists to leave a world they knew, to travel to a world that few knew and for which they weren’t sure they would even reach; followed by illumination of their character after reaching that destination.  In an era so different from ours, 53 surviving refugees experienced life lessons that transcend creed, ethnicity, attitudes, culture, technology and time.  Spanning their persecution in Europe, a treacherous voyage and that first year in which half of them perished, these life trials, in retrospect, exposed them to the following:

  • Finding joy in the presence of sorrow
  • Thankfulness for each other
  • Freedom to follow your Belief System (at least four Belief Systems converged at that first Festival)
  • Freedom of speech should be tempered by personal decency, not external controls
  • Pursue conviction with your heart, mind and spirit.  In times of plenty, compassion, not compulsion, inspires you to share the spoils with those in need.  This is the right thing to do -- and makes society better
  • The true test of compassion is when those in need share the spoils with others in need.  Outward focus, during times of trial, was on display at that first festival and is one of the toughest things to do -- it’s the basis of empathy and makes us better as individuals
  • As a society, we find strength through our uniqueness -- of knowledge, skills, interests, giftedness, temperament, spirit and perspective.  These differences are unified through empathy.
  • The greater good is the aggregate of individual accountability
  • Never assume you are owed something but be grateful for everything (even adversity)
  • As individuals, we are defined, remembered and destined by the actions of our convictions
  • When the pursuit of your conviction doesn’t materialize, never give up.  Adversity cowers in the shadow of sustaining hope.

Rather than becoming bitter, these experiences made the surviving group stronger.  Sadly, some of these settlers lost sight of these lessons and would eventually become the people they had fled.

Happy Day of Gratefulness as another holiday season begins!