Finley Peter Dunne, Chicago newspaperman and humorist, presented a view of Thanksgiving at the turn of the 20th century through Mr. Dooley, his fictional Irish saloonkeeper and philosopher. It goes like this: " 'Twas founded by th' Puritans to give thanks f'r bein' presavred fr'm th' Indyans, an' . . . we keep it to give thanks we are presarved fr'm th' Puritans."
Humor is humor, of course, and a certain latitude is granted regarding factual accuracy. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated with the "Indyans" in part as a thank you for the "Indyans" saving the Puritans from starvation. And while we may be thankful that we're not beholden to any particular religious ideology, the holiday is largely a non-secular event.
And it should be.
In my (relatively) short life span I've seen Thanksgiving marginalized between the dual commercial cornucopias of Halloween and Christmas. The sun sets on Labor Day only to rise the next day on the orange, black and yellow jack-o'lanterns and witches haunting the store aisles. The sun again sets and rises the very next day magically changing the colors to the red, green and white of plastic fir trees and elves. What happened to brown?
Breathe a sigh of relief. With some exceptions, Thanksgiving has been largely spared the commercial redefinition so shamelessly--and vulgarly--hoisted upon most other holidays, including Easter. Maybe it's a vast "secular wing conspiracy" to denigrate religious holidays (remembering, of course, that Halloween is short for "All Hallowed Even", the eve of All Saints' Day). I don't know how or why but I'm glad it's mostly overlooked.
Maybe, though, it's because Americans have a soul, a soul that seeks at least some respite from merchandizing bombardment. We refused to shop, we ignored the siren song in the key of greed for "Pre-Thanksgiving Day" or "Thanksgiving Day Extravaganza" for this or that. We wanted a break, at least until Black Friday. So the ad agencies, as anxious as a spaniel looking for a lost ball, moved on. We were left free to be thankful.
So gather up your family and dinner guests on Thanksgiving and be thankful that you have and can hold each other. Be thankful that we live in the greatest country on earth--founded, yes, largely by "th' Puritans"--that has had yet another election without mobs and violence. Be thankful for your freedom, something that I know we all take for granted, and never, ever take it for granted.
If you can while you're gathered together, sing the first verse of Henry Alford's hymn "Come Ye Thankful People Come" and say the following prayer:
"O most merciful Father, who has blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; we give humble and hearty thanks for this Thy bounty; beseeching Thee to continue Thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to Thy glory and our comfort, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving...and be thankful!