While a few members of my extended family celebrate Thanksgiving as a prelude to the sales that follow Thanksgiving, I think of it as the day before the turkey leftovers. To me, there is nothing better than a leftover turkey sandwich with mayonnaise, spicy mustard, icebox lettuce and tomato.
We know the first American Thanksgiving story. Almost 400 years ago, the pilgrims and Indians came together to share their harvest. Since then, Thanksgiving has become a day of family gatherings, feasting and football.
While growing up in Carrollton, Georgia, I looked forward to Thanksgiving weekend, when our small town put up its Christmas decorations. The decorations, bells and candy canes made up of lights, were placed near the top of the light poles.To me, they seemed to reach toward heaven. I never saw the decorations being set out. It's as if they magically appeared every year.
The appearance of the decorations marked the transition from Thanksgiving to the slow build up to Christmas. The colors were red, white and green. At night, the candy canes and bells lit up and served as beacons of cheer and festivity, turning my everyday world into a place where magic might happen. This possibility provided me with optimism.
My father was a college professor and my mother a high school teacher. While we never lacked food, the fact that my sister's hand-me-downs were the foundation of my wardrobe was a reflection of our economic status at the time. However, what I remember most is not our economic challenges, but our thankfulness for what we did have, and my family's belief that the future held promise.
Possibly, our thankfulness helped us believe there was a promising future. A reflection on the meaning and importance of giving thanks as a nation might provide us with perspective. George Washington's first presidential proclamation designated the 26th day of November to be set aside for thanks giving. "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God and to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor," he wrote.
President George Washington did not ask the citizens to demand more from God, to question the eight year Revolutionary War, or to reflect on the damage that occurred during the war. Instead, the duty he described was to be grateful and ask for God's protection and favor.
In a similar, tumultuous time, after the Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln declared a day of Thanksgiving. His proclamation acknowledged "The gracious gifts of the Most High God." Lincoln invited his fellow citizens to set apart and observe "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
Lincoln did not ask the American people to be distraught over the 600,000 lives lost during the Civil War, nor distressed over the damage to buildings and commerce. Instead, in a time of war, he asked the American people to acknowledge the gifts of a gracious God.
During our times of trial, should we not do the same? Being thankful, even for small things, allows us to be receptive and open. We are acknowledging that there are good things in life. When we are upset and demanding, we focus on the bad and shut out the possibilities of good, gifts and hope.
We should remember our duty, as noted by Washington, "to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God and to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor."
By giving thanks for what we have, we will begin to be receptive and open, able to dream of what might be. This optimism will then give way to action and results.
This year, as you bite into your leftover turkey sandwich, give more thanks.