The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Thanksgiving’


The final assembly at school before the Thanksgiving Holiday had concluded.  As in previous years, we students put on a presentation about the Pilgrims and that first day they recognized for solemn Thanksgiving.  And they had much for which to be thankful – mostly at the hands of their neighbors the Native Americans who had rescued them from likely starvation.  This program, which our parents attended, always concluded with the following hymn:

It never occurred to me that Thanksgiving day had not been celebrated continuously since the Pilgrims arrived in 1620.  I also was unaware that the Pilgrims when they had first arrived on these shores were primarily responsible for their own dire situation.

When they first arrived in the New World, the Pilgrims adopted a communal way of governance – “To each according to his needs.”  Sadly, even five centuries ago, there were some who did the work and others who benefited from the labor of their fellows.  It was only when the “communal land” was divided up and allocated to each family that the young colony began to prosper – as people took responsibility for themselves.  That is a lesson that does not fit well into the present political, statist mindset.  Nor does the fact that it is to a loving God that we are addressing ourselves with our songs of thankfulness.

Since George Washington first proclaimed his statement of thanksgiving and President Lincoln designated a day of National Thanksgiving as an official holiday, the fact that it was to a Divine provenance that we as a people were to offer our thanks was a clear and constant theme.  That was recognized in our school program and no one whether Christian or Jew, agnostic or atheist seemed to object.  At least I never heard from those who might have.

My family also recognized this in our small Thanksgiving ritual dinner by inviting those who had no families of their own to share our meal and be a part of our family.  Before Dad would begin carving the turkey, he would express his gratitude for the blessings he had received and would invite everyone around the table to do the same if they chose to do so.  Only when the last person had spoken would we begin to eat.

In my own way I tried to carry on some variation of this tradition.  For many years a number of us from the church in Chicago where I was a parishioner would wake up early and by four o’clock in the morning we would be working to prepare a complete traditional Thanksgiving meal that we would would serve to almost two hundred homeless people at a local shelter.  When the last person had been served her or his plate, we would sit down with them and join them for this special meal.

But it was a sad realization that while we had fed these people for one day, we had done very little to change their lives.  And it was difficult to hold on to a sense of Thanksgiving as we looked out over this ragtag, unwashed group of people, many of whom were recovering from their evening sedative of cheap whiskey or bad wine.

If there were any sense of hope it came from the few who turned to us and with sad but grateful eyes said, “Thank you,” as they left to return to their cardboard shelters – insufficient protection against the biting, blowing cold winds.  But in the back of our minds we knew the fate that they had chosen, willingly or not, and knew that there was a warm apartment and a comfortable bed waiting for each of us.

It seems to me that over the years we have done everything within our power to secularize, anesthetize and sterilize Thanksgiving.  It might better be described as a “Day of Carbohydrates and Gluttony, enhanced by a thorough immersion in football and concluded with a bout of  mindless midnight spending at the mall.”  Although I would be remiss not to note that in their attempt to suck the lucre out of the consumer’s purses and wallets, stores are opening even earlier than usual.

Given our abandonment of principle and our attempt to turn the sacred into the profane, it does not surprise me that a group of atheists, unmindful of the basis on which America was founded, have selected the Friday following Thanksgiving to launch a billboard campaign, boasting their credo, “Good without God.”  I should suggest that for the sake of consistency, they should have spelled God with a lower case “g.”

The great thing about living in America is that everyone is entitled to his opinion – and I am delighted that this atheist contingent have the ability to offer theirs.  I take no offense at their ministrations.  But, in the spirit of American fairness, I do expect the same courtesy that they receive from me and others who have a religious mindset when it comes to expressing ourselves and our beliefs.

Now if that were to come to pass, that would truly be a reason for Thanksgiving.


For most Americans, our national day of Thanksgiving is wrapped up in family, over-eating, football and a general euphoric sense of joy.  The same may not be said for the turkeys involved in this whole thing – although I consulted with the yams and cranberries and they seem to be okay with it all.

Oh, and let me not forget.  This begins the kickoff to that most important part of the Holidays – shopping.

Our insatiable lust for more “things” has compelled our retailers to begin pulling back the onslaught of prospective buyers from the Friday after Thanksgiving to the night of the holiday itself.  Perhaps they have conducted studies that prove that a person who has consumed vast quantities of l-tryptophan is more likely to part with his money if he can only stay awake long enough to get in the store’s welcoming doors.   Inside can be found the keys to happiness wrapped up neatly in packages made in China.

There is no recession here – unless it is one of the spirit and of values.

It was a bitterly cold day in Chicago that December 23rd.  I had nearly finished checking every one off my Christmas list – but there were still two holdouts.

I remember that even under the multiple layers of clothing my body was telling me to go someplace warm.  My fingers were numb even through my faux fur-lined gloves.  I would have put my hands in my coat pocket but I was carrying two bags of gifts which I needed to go home and wrap.

Home.  That sounded cozy and welcoming and I wanted to be there.  But first I had to find those two last presents.

I remember walking into a little store in the neighborhood which had merchandise that was made in Scandinavia.  All sorts of little pieces of glass, blown into the most wonderful and imaginative forms.  Frankly, I didn’t think these were things that my last two giftees would care about – but that didn’t matter to me.  The store was warm and I was beginning to return to room temperature.  That was my greatest reason for deciding to linger, taking my time in deciding which present each of them would receive – whether they wanted it or not.

I would probably have stayed longer as the blood in my feet was only just beginning to re-circulate but one of the sales people explained that they were getting ready to close.  So I made my decision, paid for my two purchases and added them to the others in my shopping bags. With some discomfort at the thought of what lay ahead in the mile walk home, I bundled up and opened the door to be greeted by a blast of wind that was so shrill and so sharp it made my eyes tear.

When I got home, I set down my parcels, took off my gloves and immediately went into the kitchen to start the kettle so I could make myself a cup of Russian Caravan tea.  I remember turning on the warm water in the sink and running my hands under it to speed up the process of getting the blood flowing through them.

And as I sat at my little kitchen table waiting for the water to come to a boil, I began thinking about my day and about all this shopping.  And I began pondering how I had, like so many of us, bought into this “bill of goods” that our sense of self-worth could be measured by the amount of money that we spent on presents.

That was the last Holiday season that I went out buying people gifts.  I turned my focus in later years to doing things that were more meaningful to me and, I hope to them.  I made things and those were my presents to my friends.

One year I taught myself to crochet and my friends all got scarves.  Another year I ventured into the world of yeast and people got  a variety of breads.  And then I taught myself to make jams and jellies and preserves and helped boost the sales of the Mason Jar Company.

I hope that those who got these gifts enjoyed receiving them as much as I did in creating them.  I know they are simple things, probably not as exciting as the latest electronic gadget.  But they were made and given with love right here in America – a land of abundance.

And that we are fortunate to live in such a place, we should all be grateful this Thanksgiving.

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