The mere mention of Thanksgiving brings many images to one’s mind. Different families and multicultural societies like ours in the United States may celebrate in unique ways, but the basis is often the same. Families gather, they share time together, and they are treated to a meal, which is beyond the norm. Not everyone eats turkey and dressing, pumpkin pie, cranberries, and all those other food items we seem to associate with the holiday. However, there is always an element of thanksgiving and gratitude in the air.
In the midst of all the travelling, celebrating and camaraderie associated with Thanksgiving, we sometimes miss the real significance of this holiday. Regardless what you may identify or accept as the beginnings of our Thanksgiving celebration, that idea of appreciation does pervade it all. Historically, it was President Abraham Lincoln who is given credit for making Thanksgiving “official” here in the United States in 1863. Nevertheless, President George Washington issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation on Oct. 2, 1789, 74 years to the day prior to Lincoln’s.
Washington began his proclamation with these words: “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, and to be grateful for His benefits…” For those who embrace and practice our idea of Catholic stewardship, this is the heart of our stewardship philosophy – that is, God needs to be at the center of our lives. God has gifted each of us, and we need to respond to God in gratitude for those many gifts. That message was the same message we hear in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. It is certainly the message of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Just as we as Catholics know it is important “to keep Christ in Christmas,” it is equally imperative to keep God in Thanksgiving. Our recent presidents, whether Democrats or Republicans, men of faith or not, have used these phrases in their own proclamations: “…grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives”; “…to give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives”; “Let us give our own thanks to God and reaffirm our love of family, neighbor and community”; “We offer praise to God for His goodness and generosity.”
As much as we may enjoy the way our own families celebrate Thanksgiving – whether it includes turkey, goose or oysters – we must never lose sight of the real message of Thanksgiving. God has blessed us and we must offer thanks to the Lord. There are so many ways we as Catholics can assure that our Thanksgivings are filled with faith and appreciation to our Lord.
In spite of the preparations for whatever feast is planned, we can try to attend Mass as a family. Many parishes bless bread and other items so that the direct connection among our faith, our faith family and the Lord is made. Prayer should be a part of the beginning and the end of our celebration, and that prayer needs to reflect our gratitude to God. We are truly blessed, and it is no accident that in this country, Thanksgiving often immediately precedes Advent. Christ should be a part of our lives now and throughout the year.