by Mike Pyatt
Many know the presidential ceremony of “pardoning” the White House Thanksgiving turkey, dates back to the 1940’s. The other fifty million meet their fowl demise on our dinner tables. Since September 28, 1789, just before leaving for recess, on the same day the first Federal Congress passed the Bill of Rights, a resolution was approved, asking President Washington to recommend to the nation a day of Thanksgiving. Lincoln proclaimed in 1863, after expressing gratitude for a pivotal victory at Gettysburg, that the nation celebrate an official Thanksgiving Holiday on November 26, 1863. FDR, on November 26,1941, signed a bill establishing the last Thursday in November, as the modern holiday we now celebrate. With the historical underpinnings established, that day’s upon us again. For some, it’s another day off work. Few will skip the festive side of the day, and all the attendant activities. Those less fortunate, may find themselves in a local rescue mission or soup kitchen. Or, as a result of commerce, at some unfamiliar diner or truck stop. Sadly, some are left out in the cold-alone.
What about the historical significance of Thanksgiving? Few would consider “Skipping Thanksgiving!” Would we? At least not outwardly. It starts inwardly. It’s a matter of the heart. One could conceivably go through the motions of turkey dinner, pumpkin pie, and all the trimmings, inviting family and friends, yet at the end-of-the-day, one’s attitude-of-gratitude is non-existent. Is that preventable? What if we’re to make a list of the things for which we are thankful, then, before the feast commences, with those gathered around the table, invite each to mention that for which they are most thankful? Of course, no one wants the food to get cold. Ever tried such a venture in the past? How did it go? Too risky?
Some recall John Gresham’s best seller, Skipping Christmas, a compelling story of a married couple who decided, for a variety of self-absorbed reasons, they’d “skip Christmas this year.” The screen adaptation of his novel, Christmas with the Kranks, starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, is a comical, yet poignant portrayal of what happens when two people forget things that truly matter, in an attempt to avoid the frenzy traditionally associated with the commercialized version of Christmas holidays. The Kranks go to extreme lengths to break the tradition of the holiday. Have we written a Skipping Thanksgiving Day sequel?
Another story’s repeated of a lonely disheveled old man, huddled at the counter of a bustling truck stop on a cold Winter’s night. Seated next to him was a burly, younger man, with a chiseled looking face, and stern veneer. The older man had just ordered a rather meager meal of barley soup and crackers, while his stool mate ordered a large t-bone steak, with all the trimmings. Once served, the older man paused, bowed his head, before partaking of his meager fare. The brawny one, watched as his older stool mate bowed his head, then loudly protested, “What are you doing old man? Giving thanks for that pitiful meal?” The unkempt little fellow, without looking at the scoffer, simply nodded in the affirmative. The hefty young man, who dwarfed his diminutive counterpart, glanced at his hardy t-bone steak, and bellowed aloud, “Well not me! I’ll dive right into my food, none of that giving thanks nonsense for me.” Those within earshot of the two at the counter were aghast at the scurrilous comments of the scoffer. After a brief interlude of silence, the older man glanced at his would-be adversary, and with a glimmer in his eye, adroitly responded, “So does my dog!”
Doubtless, there’s a myriad of blessings for which to give thanks. Some prefer to divide those into two categories. First, are the “horizontal things.” All that we gather around us. Primarily tangible, and most will rust, go out-of-style, deteriorate or fall apart, and devaluate sooner or later. Everything from cars, boats, i-Phones, and toys, to the apparel in or closets. Earthly things. Second, are “vertical things.” Permanent things. Those that can ultimately be attributed to our Beneficent God, Who delights in giving us reason to be thankful. Innumerable blessings like eternal life, liberty, family, love, friendship, mercy, and an unalterable purpose in life, to mention a few.
Unfortunately, when one’s focus is solely on the “horizontal,” the “vertical” fades, and become more obscure, or worse, forgotten. In reality, one may discover at Thanksgiving Day’s end, when one’s girth has expanded from over indulgence, yet one’s gratitude has shrunk, and sadly, one has “Skipped Thanksgiving” again. Perhaps unwittingly. While Congress passed a law in 1941, officially declaring the fourth Thursday in November, as America’s Thanksgiving Day, there’s no legislating the heart. That’s our domain. It’s a time not for just exploring the origins of this holiday, but rather engaging in a penetrating examination of the heart’s response to this historical and symbolic day.
The one-hundred and eighty ton ship set sail from Southhampton, England, leaving its soil in 1620, with one-hundred and two souls, bulwarks of faith, after weeks of plowing through tumultuous weather and high seas, blown from their intended location of Virginia, arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Following a year of unspeakable loss and tragedy, with half of the original members dead, the survivors dedicated a day of Thanksgiving for His Bounty and Blessings. Like pilgrims of old, we must establish our observance firmly entrenched in the reality that the same God of the Old and New Testament is present and active in our daily lives. We’re inexcusable to “skip” this day again. Dare we exchange the “shadow of things,” to obscure the “substance of magnificence,” that our manifold Blessings demand? Shall we succumb to the specter of the secularization of this day? Who’ll “pardon” this foul practice of “Skipping Thanksgiving?” What heritage have we transferred to a generation we’ll never see? What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org