11/24/2010 1:41:00 PM Years pass and times change, but it's still Thanksgiving Day
Most Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M. Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton
The changing colors of the leaves as they drop to the ground. The smell of fireplaces burning. The chill in the air. The progressive shortness of daylight. The enthusiastic cheers at Friday night football games. Yes, there’s no doubt about it: Fall is well underway. And with the Fall comes that great feast we, as Americans, celebrate annually: Thanksgiving!
We are not really sure when the first Thanksgiving occurred on our shores but it was most probably in the early 1600s. We conjure up images of pilgrims and native Americans sharing a festive meal. Plymouth, Massachusetts, usually comes to mind as the initial location. Although the thanksgiving table was originally set, no doubt, with all kinds of early American foods not as common now, to most of us today turkey, bread stuffing, potatoes, cranberries and all kinds of attendant goodies are the essential elements of the feast well-observed.
Some identify our first president George Washington as the founder of the feast since it was he who proclaimed “Thanksgiving day” in 1789, establishing a day “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” Others give the honor to our sixteenth president Abraham Lincoln who, in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War issued a proclamation “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Still others consider the year 1941 to be the true, legal establishment of Thanksgiving Day, looking to the acts of the U.S. Congress and our thirty-second president Franklin D. Roosevelt which made the last Thursday of November a matter of federal law as the date for this annual observance.
No matter what the history that leads up to this present day, no matter what customs – culinary or otherwise – are observed, Thanksgiving Day is one of our greatest and most revered national holidays. And its original purpose and intent was and still remains gratitude to God our Creator for all that he has given to us as a nation. It is also, simultaneously, a time to express thanks to God for all that he has given to our families and to each one of us as individuals. Is there anyone who does not have something for which to be grateful?
Personally, Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays and one of my earliest, richest memories. My Mom would prepare for days and then get up early on Thanksgiving Day to put the turkey and all the fixins’ in the oven. She was the central character in this annual production! By the time the rest of us rolled out of bed, we could smell the aroma of celery and onions everywhere in the house. We all had roles to play, the most important of which was to stay out of the way until Mom needed us. More often than not, setting the table fell to me. I remember so well the beautiful china that her Mom gave to her as a wedding gift. It only made an appearance at Thanksgiving and Christmas so I had to be extra careful. The house began to fill with grandparents and other relatives shortly after noon. Drinks were poured, football games were tuned in and great “family noise” was everywhere. When the time arrived, we gathered around the table downstairs and the turkey made its appearance. Heads bowed as we said grace and then the feast began! What a day! And somehow, with all we ate, there was always room for pumpkin pie!
The years have passed by and times have changed. Many of those who gathered around our family table year after year have gone home to God. The youngsters are long grown with children and Thanksgivings of their own. What was, once, a huge number of guests is now down to only three. We don’t use Mom’s special china any more and what used to be a big turkey is now only a small turkey breast. The menu is much the same but radically scaled down. But you know something: it’s still Thanksgiving Day! And the reason we gather, large or small, is the same motivation that was always there: to express our gratitude to God for his bounty, for all he does for us, for those we love — and, now, for beautiful memories of wonderful Thanksgivings gone by. We still prepare and anticipate; we still pray our grace; we still laugh and enjoy being with each other as we share stories and memories. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for loving us so much and for the love we have for each other. And there is still always room for pumpkin pie! My prayerful, best wishes to all the members of our great Diocese, on Thanksgiving and always!