I am on Cape Cod this Thanksgiving Day, with my wife, her mother and some of her siblings, nephews and nieces. After a wet drive from the South Shore the night before, this day has been sunny, clear, crisp and cool. In the morning we went to the local Catholic church, and attended a Thanksgiving Mass. My wife, Peg’s father passed away in October, so after Mass, we visited his grave.
As I write this, various members of the family have bringing their donations for this evening’s dinner. Food is being prepared, table cloths spread out, and the table has been set. With all this activity, I have begun to reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving Day. Some trace it roots to the English Reformation, during the time when the Puritans had strong influence over the Church of England. Holy days were done away with; to be replaced by Days of Fasting during times of national tragedies, or stress, and Days of Thanksgiving for good harvests and national victories. The Pilgrims brought these practices with them to New England. Various colonies and then states would proclaim days of Thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln would issue a presidential proclamation, establishing Thanksgiving as a holiday throughout all the states.
Thanksgiving Day was meant to be a time of both feasting, and prayer. But as with Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving has fallen prey to commercial interests. Stores, car dealerships, you name it, sponsor special “Thanksgiving sales,” using the images of Pilgrims, Indians, pumpkins and turkeys to promote their wares. Groups of people have a different approach to the day. The Massachusetts town of Plymouth has a community parade celebrating the day; Native Americans hold a Day of Mourning.
May it be time to try to bring back the spiritual aspect of Thanksgiving? Whether you are a Christian or not; a believer or not; we all need to have time reflect on what good has happened in our lives this past year, if only to counter the negative experiences we may have had. As a believer, this day makes me aware that all Creation is gift; that our lives are gift; gifts from a loving God. Sometimes, circumstances may lead us to doubt that, but life is a gift, and God still cares for us, in wondrous and mysterious ways. And I am grateful for that.
As I walk around and see the woods and fields in autumn; when I look up into the evening sky, studded with stars, I am moved to thank God for the awesome beauty I am seeing. I close with a prayer from the writings of St. Francis of Assisi. Not exactly a Thanksgiving prayer, but I think it is appropriate for the day:
Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
(Canticle of the Sun)