Thursday, November 24, 2016


“So what is Thanksgiving for except for eating turkey, and watching football games, and parades?” a college student named Virginia asked. She insisted that Thanksgiving was just a prelude to Christmas, with the busiest shopping day of the year following Turkey Day. “Without turkey, bowl games, parades, and family get-togethers, does Thanksgiving even exist?” she asked.

 “Well…sadly, Virginia, few people know the Spirit of Thanksgiving.  It is what the word means, to give thanks, or in other words express gratitude.” I replied, hesitantly.

“Gratitude?  What is gratitude?” she asked.

Well, I said, “Webster’s Dictionary defines gratitude as a state of being grateful, or thankfulness.” 

 Virginia said, “Oh, Webster’s is a big help!  Defining a word with the same word! “ 

Well, I said, “Let’s look it up. Let’s see what else does Webster’s say?  ‘Grateful is defined as 1. Appreciative of benefits received; thankful.  2.   Affording pleasure, gratifying, welcome, as in grateful coolness after heat.’ Webster must have lived in Arizona in the summer time,” I quipped, “and ‘3. Expressing gratitude.  Not much more help; is it, Virginia?’”

 “What does that mean!” Virginia quipped.

“It means some people are so thankful, that they attend church services on Thanksgiving Day to express their thankfulness to God for all their blessings.  They show Him their thankfulness by their worship, and by leaving an offering.  Other people show their gratitude by saying thank you to their in-laws for inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner, and by taking a small offering, wine, or rolls for dinner, as they exclaim, ‘Thank you for inviting us to dinner, and putting in all this work towards a lovely dinner!’”

“What else does it say?” she asked.

I continued, “So according to Webster being thankful, and being grateful, both mean the same thing, expressing acknowledgment of favors, or blessing received, except they are directed towards different people.  I believe it is the opposite of say … that all too American feeling of entitlement, or perhaps the expression of criticism, ‘Aunt Erma, you burnt my Thanksgiving turkey!’ or ‘God knows, that I, and not that jerk Joe, deserved that promotion!

So you are thankful to your father for buying you that pony, and are grateful to God for His providential care in providing your father with a job that can afford him to do that.”

“So what does all this have to do with Pilgrims, and Native Americans?” she asked.

“Well, okay, to further understand the Spirit of Gratitude, and, or the Spirit of Thankfulness we have to go back in time to that first Thanksgiving, which occurred in 1621, in Plymouth, MA, with the Pilgrims, and the Indians, now referred to as the Native Americans.”

“Yea, we all know about the Pilgrims,” Virginia, quipped.

“Well, we don’t all know everything. In 1621 America celebrated what we considered ‘The First Thanksgiving.’ Although in some historical circles, historians considered the Native Americans as celebrating ‘The First Thanksgiving’ without the pilgrims. The Native American groups before the arrival of the Europeans had a long tradition of celebrating the harvest, and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Although the 1621 Native Americans were Wampanoag Indians, many other Native American groups throughout North America had organized harvest festivals, and celebrations previous to the 1621 event.  
On the European side, several giving thanks celebrations also occurred before 1621. In December of 1619, British colonist Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer, in Berkeley Plantation, VA, near the Charles River, and pledged his ‘Thanksgiving’ to God for the settlers’ healthy arrival across the Atlantic. Other historians declare this event as 'The First Thanksgiving,' while still other historians got it right on the nose.”

“And this is relevant because…?” Virginia asked. 

“Because the true Spirit of Thanksgiving lies in the marriage of gratitude towards others, and thankfulness towards God.  The 1621 Thanksgiving was indeed ‘The First Thanksgiving’ as the Pilgrims expressed gratitude towards their Indian friends for teaching the Pilgrims how to hunt, and farm, thus helping them through the harsh winter.  The Native Americans received the Pilgrims’ gratefulness, and celebrated with them.  They all joined together to give thanks to God for a bountiful harvest.

This legacy of thanks, gratitude, and feasting has survived the centuries as people throughout the United States gather family, friends, and enormous amounts of food for their yearly Thanksgiving meal.”

“Well, that covers the big meals, church services, and family gatherings.  What about the Thanksgiving we know, and love today, with football, turkey, and Macy’s parades, and such?”

I replied, “Well, that took time. Although President George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison, as well as state governors all issued proclamations urging the observance of special days of thanksgiving, it took two hundred years after The First Thanksgiving in 1621, before President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged that our Creator deserved a special day of Thanksgiving.  He believed that in times of war especially during the Civil War, we, as a country, needed a formal day to give thanks. In 1863, he declared the last Thursday in November as a time for family, and friends to gather for Thanksgiving.  But it took until 1941, after the Great Depression ended, for Congress, and President Franklin Roosevelt to codify giving thanks into law, and finally made Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November a nationally recognized holiday.”

“And the turkeys?” asked Virginia.

“Turkeys, and Thanksgiving all seemed to go together since the beginning. Pilgrims ate stewed turkey for Thanksgiving. The politicians of course also got into the turkey spirit. Abraham Lincoln pardoned the first turkey, his step son Tad’s pet turkey, but the traditional pardon of the turkeys didn’t occur until President Harry Truman did this in 1947. And the pardoned turkeys lived out their days free from the threat of Thanksgiving Day dinner.”

“And football? Virginia asked.

“In 1894 the new American Intercollegiate Football Association held its first Thanksgiving Day football game.  Through the years, various high school, and colleges would hold championship games on Thanksgiving, but in 1934 the first NBC radio broadcast of a live football championship game occurred.  It featured the Detroit Lions, and the Chicago Bears, at the University of Detroit stadium in front of 26,000 fans. In 1956, the Thanksgiving game was broadcasted on television for the first time, and the Detroit Lions have played every Thanksgiving with the exception of the World War II years, 1939 through 1944.”

“And the parades?”

“Gimbels had tried to launch a Thanksgiving Day parade earlier in 1920, but it didn’t take hold, however; until 1924, in New York City.  Macy’s Christmas Parade, was launched on Thanksgiving Day by Macy’s employees to signify the start of the Christmas shopping season. It featured animals from the Central Park Zoo. The name was later changed to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and of course is now seen on TV by millions.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade became even more famous after the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street.  It featured actual footage of the 1946 parade. Its giant balloon floats, the appearance of  Santa Claus, and other celebrities, and performances by the National City Rockettes, and Broadway stars have cemented its appeal. ”1

“So why didn’t everyone just watch the games on TV, and the parades and forget about the family, and the turkey?”

“Well, maybe it’s because Norman Rockwell, codified the family Thanksgiving into our American psyche.”

“Who, what?” asked Virginia.

“Norman Rockwell, the famous American illustrator.  A great artist who supplied the front page illustrations for a popular magazine, the Saturday Evening Post.  He illustrated the Four Freedoms to push the war effort.  The Four Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom of Want was enumerated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a speech in 1941, the same year Thanksgiving was made a national holiday. The purpose of the speech was to push the war effort, World War II.  Norman Rockwell was inspired to illustrate the Four Freedoms in his famous illustrations, and the Freedom from Want, also called The Thanksgiving is Norman Rockwell’s best loved, and most recognized composition. It shows a family feast centered around a big turkey, with the whole family including children, grandchildren, grandparents, and parents feasting around a table set with good china, and good silver.  Grandma is serving the big bird in her apron, and Grandpa is at the head of the table, getting ready to slice it. A picture of our American icon of Thanksgiving.”2

“Well, imagine that,” said Virginia.

“Yes, indeed. In fact, we like depicting Thanksgiving in iconic images. In 2001, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp celebrating Thanksgiving. The stamp’s artist Margaret Cusak depicted the rich history of Thanksgiving including thankfulness with the phrase, ‘We Give Thanks.’  She also depicted the history of overflowing blessings, and bountiful harvest with a cornucopia filled with fruits, and vegetables.1

So that’s the history of Thanksgiving in a nutshell.  But the real spirit doesn’t lie in the trappings, turkey, big meals, bowl games, parades, family gatherings, church services, and pretty pictures it lies in the spirit of thankfulness, and gratitude.”

“But that’s such a vague emotion. It’s still hard to grasp. I swear some days I just don’t feel too grateful, or thankful. I’m not going to pretend. In fact, I want, what I want, when I want it. Life sucks.”

“Well, you don’t have to pretend to feel grateful or thankful if you are not, but you should still foster gratitude, and thankfulness.”

“Well, how do you do that?”

“Let’s take a look at some people wiser then myself who wrote about gratitude. In fact, the world’s religious leaders, speakers, philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and even lowly talk show hosts have long held gratitude in high esteem. Across the ages, they all say just about the same thing about how to foster gratitude.  Their methods not only have to do with feelings, but also with actions.”3

“Well, what do ‘they’ say?” asked Virginia.

“Dale Carnegie, one of the greatest inspirational, speakers, and authors of the twentieth century in his book How to Stop Worrying, and Start Living, writes ‘Live one day at a time. Don’t fret about the future, but plan for it. Be thankful to God for your daily bread. And expect ingratitude. Repay it with gratitude.’4  

Jesus himself said about living one day at a time, ‘Don’t be anxious about tomorrow.  God will take care of your tomorrow, too. Live one day at a time. Mathew 6:345 ‘And don’t worry about food-what to eat and drink; don’t worry at all.  Believe that God will provide it for you.  All mankind scratches for its daily bread, but your heavenly Father knows your needs.’ Luke 12:30:315  In the Lord’s prayer Jesus said to pray and be thankful to God for your daily bread, ‘And give us our food day by day.’ Luke 11:45  And about ingratitude when He healed 10 lepers, and only one came back to thank Him, He said, ‘And where are the other nine?’ Luke 17:17, 5 and yet He also said, ‘Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to then!  And don’t be concerned about the fact that they won’t repay,’ Luke 6: 35, 5 ‘If someone demands your coat, give them your shirt besides. For if you give, you will get!  Your gift will return to you.’ Luke 6:385 In other words, repay ingratitude with graciousness and as the byproduct of  your gift (gratitude) will return to you.”

“And what else do ‘they’ say?” asked Virginia.

“Well, Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, the best selling inspirational author of The Power of Positive Thinking, says, ‘Sufferings breed empathy, and gratitude. Concentrate on the positive. Diminish the negative. Make a choice.  Choose an attitude of gratefulness. And while you are at it, teach your children gratitude by modeling it.  If someone gives you a gift of time, money, or property, receive your gifts graciously. Not only say ‘Thank you,’ but after the giver leaves don’t disparage the giver or the gift in front of your children. Don’t teach them a sense of entitlement. Don’t expect more and more things, and time from people. Don’t do everything for your children, in other words give them chores.  And let them actually see how hard you work, and sacrifice to give them necessities, and luxuries.’  

Norman Vincent Peale also said, ‘See your competition as friends, colleagues, but not enemies. Pray for your enemies. Envy destroys gratitude.’ 6

Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you.  Pray for the happiness of those who curse your.  Implore God’s blessing on those who hurt you.’ Luke 7:27:28 5   Rev. Peale knows that it’s hard to envy someone you are praying for.  And if you’re not envious of your colleagues your heart is open, and thus easier to be grateful for what your coworkers teach you.”

“And just who else agrees with the good Reverend?” asked Virginia sarcastically.

“Joshua Halberstam Ph.D., a philosopher professor at New York University, in The Envy Trap, also agrees with Norman Vincent Peale. He said that the great father of philosophy, the ancient Greek Aristotle, noted that you can admire the celebrities, but since you can’t see yourself as equal to say Oprah Winfrey, or Lady Gaga, you can’t envy them.  But if you can’t envy Oprah her favorite things, or Lady Gaga her fame, you can envy your colleague Joe’s promotion, and your neighbor winning the lottery. 

In fact, he mentions that the first murder in history was depicted with the biblical Cain, and Abel story which stemmed from sibling rivalry. Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s sons. Abel, a shepherd brought the fatty cuts of meat from his best lambs, but Cain a farmer brought produce as an offering to God. The Lord accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. In retaliation Cain killed his brother Abel. Genesis 4:1:55According to Dr. Halberstam, like Cain, envious people see the world as a competition.  If Abel gains something, than you lose.  To overcome envy, Dr. Halberstam writes you have to tell yourself that there is enough good stuff out there for everyone, including you.  In other words, gratitude is all inclusive. Like Norman Vincent Peal, Joshua Halberstam says see colleagues as friends, and helpers, not enemies.” 7

“So what else does religious leaders say about gratitude, and thankfulness?’ asked Virginia.

“Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, the best selling religious author in The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-third Psalm, says, ‘Recognize that God is King, and we are all interdependent. Be grateful for the givens, the things you take for granted.  If you can walk, be grateful.  If you can eat, be grateful.  If you can talk, be grateful. If you can see, hear, touch, or love be grateful. Be grateful for God for ‘you are wonderfully made,’ Psalm 139:15 5  and be grateful for your parents, and others that provide the givens for you.’

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, the author of the best-seller when Bad Things Happen to Good People writes in The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-third Psalm, ‘That the Twenty-third Psalm encapsulates the essence of gratitude even if bad things happen.  Gratitude does not change the facts of your life, because ‘Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.’ Psalm 23: 45   Gratitude does, however, change your way of looking at the world, ‘Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!’ Psalm 23:1, 5   and gratitude makes life more enjoyable. 

‘You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflow!’ Psalm 23:5 5  Gratitude is a gift we give ourselves. 8 ‘Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.’” Psalm23:5 

“So, okay we covered Protestants, and Jews, and even Jesus himself, how about Catholics?

“How about the First Commandment, ‘You shall not use the name of Jehovah your God irreverently, or in other words, Thou shall not take God’s name in vain?’” Exodus 20:75

“What does swearing have to do with gratitude?”

“According to Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, in an editorial in The Catholic Sun, the Phoenix Diocesan newspaper, entitled, ‘Thou Shall Not Take God’s Name in Vain,’ if we are grateful to God for all that he has given us then we wouldn’t use His name in vain. Just like if we are grateful to our friend for helping us out in a jam, we wouldn’t go around calling him or her names.  We would respect our friend’s name and call him John, or Ralph, or whatever, not ‘That Son of a Bitch.’  And by blasphemy, what you call swearing, we not only display our disdain for the gift of faith, but we close off our hearts towards gratitude for the other gifts of God, and the gift of each other. So if you want to foster the gift of thankfulness, and gratitude, stop the habit of swearing.” 9

“So the lesson from the Catholics is don’t swear. Didn’t you promise morals from popular culture, too?"

“Yes, that's the lesson. Don’t take the name of the Lord in vain, and in its place acknowledge God, and take God’s name seriously. And a lesson from pop culture comes from none other than Homer Simpson. Homer Simpson in The Simpsons said he didn't need to say grace.  Before his Thanksgiving dinner he said no thanks to God by exclaiming that we bought, and earned all this stuff ourselves3. This seems to typify the American psyche of not acknowledging anything before God, but according to Rev. Rick Warren, in the best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life, the exact opposite should be true.  He quotes Corinthians, 10 ‘What are you so puffed up about?  What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if all you have is from God, why act as though you are so great and you have accomplished something on your own?’ 1 Corinthians 4:75

God makes it clear that we are stewards, and we are just borrowing his stuff, 10 ‘The Earth belongs to God! Everything in all the world is his! He is the one who pushed the oceans back to let dry land appear.’ Psalm 24:15

You may think you own that job, but maybe your time there will be short, and you may think you own that piece of land your house is built upon, but we never really own anything during our brief stay on earth.  What’s that old saying, “You can’t take it with you, when you die, or as the Rev. Rick Warren the founding pastor of the Saddleback Church puts it, ‘Life is a Temporary Assignment.’ 10

And that land, and even your children, they belong to God, 10   ‘Multiply and fill the Earth, and subdue it. You are masters of the fish and birds and all the animals.  And look!  I have giving you the seed-bearing plants through all the Earth, and all the fruit trees for your food.’ “Genesis1:285

“So how do you thank God for your food?” Virginia asks.

“You thank God for your food by offering grace. If you want to foster thankfulness say grace, before your Thanksgiving meal, and every meal.”

“But I don’t know any prayers for grace!” Virginia exclaimed.

“How about the Catholic Prayer of Grace Before Meals, ‘Bless us O Lord, for these thy gifts which we are about to receive, through thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.’11   Or use your own denomination’s prayer, or make up your own, but just remember to give thanks to God for all those seed-bearing plants through all the Earth, and all the fruit trees for your  food… 
“And remember your time on Earth is short.” said Virginia cutting me off.

“Exactly.  And don’t forget the farmers who grew those plants, and fruits, and the truckers who transported them to you.  Unlike Homer, we didn’t do it all ourselves. We are all interdependent. Virginia, you mentioned that, “I want, what I want, when I want it.’ That’s so American of you, the key word being ‘I.

In fact sometimes a foreigner can see into the American psyche better then we can, because of familiarity. Piero Ferrucci, a Frenchman, psychotherapist, and philosopher in his book, The Power of Kindness writes, “It’s so American to think of ourselves as independent, not dependent or interconnected. Unlike our founding Pilgrims, we like to consider our success and our failures based on individual talent, ability, and skills alone. But considered where you learned your information, and skills. Colleagues have taught you tricks of the trade. Teachers have taught you general information you needed for work, ideas, and inspiration. Parents have supported you.  Even character traits have been evoked by the presence of others.  How can you be grateful for your empathy for the poor, if you have never been exposed to poverty?  Your own poverty or somebody else’s?  Like, Rabbi Kusner who recognizes that people aren’t grateful for their health, a given, until you lose it. You become sick. And sickness not only brings gratitude, but empathy, for others who are in the same condition.” 12

“So we are all interdependent, like the Pilgrims learning how to hunt from the Indians. So, how do you break the ‘I wants’?” Virginia asked.

“David Niven, Ph.D., psychologist, and social scientist professor at Florida Atlantic University, and best-selling author of The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People, advises, ‘Take a vacation from advertising.  Avoid television, the Internet, radio, and the newspaper.  Advertising is designed to make you want what don’t have or make you want more, and more of what you do have.  In fact, take the ultimate vacation from consumerism.  Don’t buy anything, but the essentials for a whole year.  Essentials are defined as rent or mortgage, taxes, utilities, transportation, food, water, medical care, personal hygiene, but no more fashionable clothes.’ 13  Americans already have enough clothes in the latest fashion, of course. Well, I guess new underwear, and replacements for torn or worn out clothing might be considered essential. But it’s important that whatever you save, put it into savings, and, or give it to charity.

And that queen of having it all, famous talk show hostess, Oprah Winfrey, on her annual avoid clutter show once said, ‘Love what you have. Cherish it, and take care of it. Avoid clutter. Give away to thrift stores, clothes, shoes, and everything you haven’t used in over a year. And teach your children to value property by taking care of your own things.’” 14

“What no Dr. Phil!” Virginia said sarcastically.

“No, no Dr. Phil, Oprah, herself, borrowed from Hebrews 13:55, ‘Be satisfied with what you have.’

 But if you practice gratitude, not only will you be happier, scientists have found that it will make you healthier as well.  You will have a better functioning immune system, and fewer colds. 3   In fact tendencies toward optimism or pessimism are usually in place by your age, college student Virginia, at puberty.  So it’s important to choose your disposition, now! 15

So Virginia, you tell me that you hate football. And can’t stand parades. Like many of us Americans, this year you can’t afford a turkey, with all the trimmings.  Your family and friends are miles away. Does Thanksgiving even exist for you? ”  

“Is there a Santa Claus? No, Thanksgiving doesn’t exist.” Virginia replied sarcastically.

“‘Yes, Virginia, there is a ‘Thanksgiving.’ It exists as certainly as gratitude, and thankfulness exist, and you know that they abound and give to life the highest beauty, and joy. The most real things in the world are those that neither children, nor men can see. Nobody can conceive nor imagine all the wonders, in the seen and unseen world. Only faith, hope, and love can push aside that curtain and help you picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond it. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No, ‘Thanksgiving!’  Thank God. It lives, and lives forever.  A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, it will continue to make glad the heart.

So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause, and there is plenty to be thankful for, and plenty of people to be grateful to.  So remember Virginia, 'Thanksgiving' lives in your heart, and in your actions.16


1          “History of Thanksgiving” History Channel Website,, © 1996 to 2008, A & E Television Network.

2          “Freedom  From Want”, Best Norman Rockwell Art,, © 2005 to 2008.

3          Sonja Haller, “For a Better Life, Say Thanks-Gratitude Can Help Your Health, Marriage, and More, The Arizona Republic, D-1, November 24, 2008.

4          Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying, and Start Living, Simon and Shuster, New York, New York, © 1948.

5          Scriptural Quotations taken from Mathew 6:34, Luke 6: 35, 6:38, 7:27:28,11:4, 17:17,  12:30:31, Psalm 23:1, 23:4, 23:5:6, 24:1, 139:15,Exodus 20:7, 1 Corinthians 4:7,  Genesis1:28, The Way, The Living Bible Illustrated Edition, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, © 1977.

6          Norman Vincent Peal, Rev., The Power of Positive Thinking, Prentice-Hall, New York, New York, © 1956.

7          Joshua Halberstam, Ph.D., Philosophy, “The Envy Trap”, New Woman, Australia, © May 1996.

8          Harold S. Kushner, Rabbi Laureate, “Excerpts from The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-third Psalm”,  Family Circle, Meridith Corporation, Des Moines, Iowa, © September 2, 2003.

9          Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead, “Thou Shalt Not Take God’s Name in Vain”, The Catholic Sun,  The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ, December 4, 2008.

1       10 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, © 2002. 

          11 Common Catholic Prayers,, Mary Foundation, Fairview Park,  OH,  ©1996-2009.

       12  Piero Ferrucci, The Power of Kindness, Translated by Vivien Reid Ferrucci, Penguin Group, USA, Inc., New York, New York, © 2006.

       13  David Niven, Ph.D., The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It, HarperCollins, San Francisco, CA, © 2000.

        14 Oprah Winfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Clean Up Your Messy House Tour-Peter Walsh,, Broadcast  Date, November 10, 2008.

      15 Barbara Yost, “Accentuate the Positive-Happiness Is Mind Over Matter, The Arizona Republic, E-1 – E-2, August 21, 2006.

       16 “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”, Francis P. Church, New York Sun, © 1897.