I soon learned that from Lincoln to Roosevelt to the joint resolution Congress passed in 1941 that turned Thanksgiving into a national holiday, everyone, it seemed in this great country, embraced the virtue of gratitude and celebrated it annually.
Something, though, didn’t quite connect the history lesson with the present reality. If God was acknowledged as the benefactor, how did he go missing from some public affairs? Did the “separation of church and state” dismiss him as the giver of such gifts?
Other questions emerged for me, as well. Why a nation birthed in gratitude and multi-ethnic solidarity would in years ahead prefer rugged individualism over community? Or foster a culture of self-reliance — as if we do not need others when building a decent quality of life?
Maybe it’s time to reflect anew on the object of thanksgiving, as our history defines it. Where we came from, what we have become and the people in our lives (though not perfect), each is reason to say “thank you” — to God. Even the image of European immigrants celebrating with Native Americans prompts a desire for unity in our divided nation — especially when the progeny of European immigrants who once shared in thanksgiving with native Indians are, ironically, still debating if immigrants have a place in our society.
Of course, long before that first American exchange, ancient Jewish, Greek and Roman cultures acknowledged the significance of gratitude. Christ himself acknowledged its importance when he encountered 10 lepers (one Samaritan and nine Jews) outside a village on the borders of Samaria and Galilee. Though Jews refused to mix with Samaritans, here the lepers’ illness and social rejection had drawn them together. Presuming their act of faith, Jesus sent them to verify with the local priest that they’d been healed. The Samaritan was the only one who returned to say thank you.