Giving Thanks


Officially declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, Thanksgiving’s roots in the United States go back to the early 1600s. The Pilgrims’ celebration of their harvest with the Wampanoag tribe in New England is often identified as the first Thanksgiving in America. There are alternative views, though. Two years before  the first New England giving of thanks, settlers from England who landed in Virginia declared in their Charter “that the day of our ship’s arrival … shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

What is not in dispute today is Thanksgiving’s status as the most popular holiday in the United States (source: YouGov). And why not? It is a time to step away from all the busy-ness of the world and congregate with friends and family around a feast. It is a time to remind ourselves of all we have to be grateful for. If gratitude is a pillar of happiness, as I believe it is, then it naturally flows that Thanksgiving would be among the happier times of the year.

In this way, Thanksgiving has remained true to its roots. Despite harsh conditions in a hostile new land fraught with dangers known and unknown, these early settlers made a point to take a day to give thanks for what little they had. 

While I don’t recall how old I was, I still remember the moment I realized, as a child, that this was the best country in the world to live and how fortunate I was to have been born here.  That thought has recently been brought to the fore for me again. 

This summer, my wife and I hosted a refugee family from Cuba that is settling in the Atlanta area. We gave them a place to live for a few weeks while they secured housing and jobs, which is no small feat in a country with not only a different language but an entirely different economic system (they marveled at Costco).

The language barrier made communicating with them a challenge (Google Translate and such apps still need work), but we were able to learn that their successful escape through Central America and up through Mexico was their second attempt.  The first ended with getting swindled and stranded for two months in Russia. At one point, when discussing life in Cuba, the father stated flatly, “In Cuba, we are slaves.”

Halfway around the world, a friend in Sderot, Israel, was displaced for a month before deciding he had had enough and would chance it and go back home. Sderot is less than 2 miles from the border with Gaza and is currently a ghost town. Of course, he is far from safe and says he is perpetually on edge because rockets can hit any time, day or night.

I suspect I am not alone in my natural tendency to focus on what I desire but don’t have. This year, as we pause as a country to give thanks, my list of things to be thankful for will be especially long.  

Jeff Buck