This day must be about much more than stuffed turkeys and cranberry sauce; or the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season; and most certainly more than the one day of the professional football season when the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions are assured to host a game at their home stadiums.
It has to be about more than measuring how busy our airports and highways will be through the weekend, how early retail stores will open to accommodate the eager shoppers and whether or not gasoline prices will be higher or lower than they were this time last year.
No, this is one of the most special days on the calendar, and for the most part that is how we have treated it for generations.
On this authentic American holiday we — individuals, families, communities and a nation of one people — pause: to reflect, to commune with friends and relatives, to share with strangers and to express our gratitude for many personal and collective blessings.
Thanksgiving Day, which is rooted in this country’s earliest traditions, has historically been a reverent and joyful occasion that is relished by the powerful and powerless, the rich and the poor, the majority and minority, the religious and agnostic alike.
Whether you trace its origins to the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621, when surviving Pilgrims joined with 90 Native Americans in a three-day celebration of a bountiful harvest, or to declarations by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, giving thanks has long been an integral part of this nation’s soul.
There’s evidence that even before the storied Pilgrim feasts with the Indians, there were Thanksgiving observances in some of the early settlements of the so-called New World.
While the British occupied Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, the Continental Congress in 1777 issued the first national Proclamation of Thanksgiving to thank “Almighty God” for, among other things, smiling “upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties … .”
Such proclamations were issued throughout the first few decades of the new country, and in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in 1863 that Thanksgiving Day be observed on the last Thursday of November, a tradition carried on by his successors for 75 years.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, a year when November had five Thursdays, declared the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day, and, by an act of Congress in 1941, that has been the official national holiday since 1942.
But more than proclamations and declarations, it is the spirit of this holiday that has so much meaning.
By all means enjoy the food, the company, the football games and even the late-night shopping. But never forget the true significance of this day, a day when we acknowledge all for which we can be most grateful.
We are thankful for our enduring democratic republic, which by no means is a perfect nation but which is one that continues to strive toward perfection.
We give thanks for the millions who have sacrificed throughout our history — some on this very day hunkered down on foreign battlefields — to protect our homeland and preserve our freedoms.
As a people we must continue to express our gratitude for dedicated leaders who persevere in spite of hindrances from adversaries and an often apathetic public.
And we give thanks for the millions throughout this country who reach out to those less fortunate, not just during holiday seasons, to offer food, clothing, shelter and hope.
Yes, despite everything else that may be going on in our busy and sometimes complicated lives, we pause on this day — to say thanks.