Thanksgiving and Memory
Yesterday, families across the land gathered for a meal of thanksgiving. Stories were shared. Bonds of family and friendship were renewed. For many children, yesterday became powerful, formative experiences that will shape their vision for a lifetime.
This has happened since Secretary of State William H. Seward’s ‘day of thanksgiving’ proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863. It concluded this way:
‘The country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.’
But history has an underside. It is less preferred and less welcome than the official story. It disturbs us. Narrative is powerful and it matters much for shaping public vision and civic task. That a Thanksgiving holiday for First Nations could be a National Day of Mourning can shock us!
The intent isn’t to nurture grudges for past sins that we cannot undo. But I’d like to challenge us to think of other stories and what it would look like for the memories those stories preserve to be told alongside our stories of blessings for which we give thanks. We still sing ‘America the Beautiful.’ But our cities are not alabaster. Nor do they gleam.
Yesterday, millions found a Thanksgiving meal at the end of a food pantry or soup kitchen line. In the past year, one in eight households struggled to put food on the table. More than 1,500,000 were homeless. This included some 300,000 children. It also included 450,000 disabled people.
153 years after President Lincoln signed the Thanksgiving Proclamation, comparatively few agree with State Secretary Seward that we can expect ‘years with large increase of freedom.’ For many, Thanksgiving was a reminder of the economic hardship and oppression they face daily.
We still sing ‘America the Beautiful.’ But our cities are not alabaster. Nor do they gleam. And I cannot help but think unless I am attempting in some small ways to remedy wrongs and be a means of blessing to others, something can’t be right with my Thanksgiving.
Friday Un-Thanksgiving Challenge
Isaiah had a minimal social vision in which every man had his hut and a fig tree. Surely, we can have a minimal, social vision. So if you could change one thing so that others would give thanks, what would it be.