Thanksgiving was born in stressful times

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, November 15, 2014

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My image of Thanksgiving has long been that classic Norman Rockwell painting “Freedom from Want” – a happy family gathered around a table loaded with food.

I’m grateful that’s what Thanksgiving has looked like, most of my life.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

But our country’s Thanksgiving holiday was born in stress and strife, not peace and plenty.

That first celebration, held by pilgrims and Indians in 1621, was in a tiny colony of settlers who saw half their number die the first winter.

New president George Washington called for a national day of thanks in 1789, just a few months after he took office, leading a country still reeling from war, trying to find its way under a new constitution.

Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, acknowledging “the ever watchful providence of Almighty God” even as a divided country paid in blood for the sin of slavery.

Seventy-eight years later, Franklin Roosevelt signed a congressional resolution fixing the holiday as the fourth Thursday in November. He signed it on Dec. 26, 1941 – 19 days after the U.S. had been thrust into World War II by the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At this distance it seems odd that they could embrace thankfulness in such dark and stressful times. But those Thanksgivings – in 1621, 1789, 1863 and 1941 – were more important than ever.

Thanksgiving 2014 is just as important.

Thankfulness is faith’s response to stress. When those around us have fallen, we’re thankful for their lives, thankful we still stand. When food is scarce, we’re grateful for what we have. When days are long and hard, we appreciate evenings.

Stress should humble us, remind us we’re blessed not because we’re deserving, but because of God’s grace.

Just like cold weather makes us appreciate jackets, today’s shifting, stressful world should lead us to appreciate the eternal foundation.

The alternative, for those whose hope is only in this world, is bitterness and anger.

I choose to be thankful.

With that in mind, I’d like to fight my way through the strings of lights, put the carolers on hold and kick off the thanking season – which is already too short.

Take these as a jump-start for your own list, which will no doubt be longer, better and mean much more to you than mine.

I’m thankful:

  • for the wonderful life of my dad, who left this world the day before Thanksgiving last year;
  • for firewood, a place to burn it and loved ones to cuddle with while it burns;
  • for windows that let in light and show us the beauty around us, but keep the cold air out;
  • for songs that give me goose bumps;
  • for a wife who makes me want to sing;
  • for children who grow up to be dear friends;
  • for a beautiful bump on my oldest daughter that, come April, will be a grandson;
  • for the smell of popcorn;
  • that I don’t have to eat all the popcorn in the world just because it smells good;
  • for leaves that turn gold and crimson before they fall;
  • for rakes, mowers and compost piles;
  • for sweater-vests;
  • for a car that starts, even on cold mornings;
  • for a job to go to in that car;
  • for healing, and for scars;
  • for rain – a metaphor for God’s blessings, falling from heaven, that even I can recognize;
  • for time, especially holidays, and loved ones to spend it with;

You may not get that time until Thanksgiving Day – or you may have to work that day and celebrate earlier or later.

When we do it doesn’t matter, as long as in the midst of all those blessings, we take time to acknowledge where, and who, they come from.

May God’s blessings light your world this Thanksgiving.

Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Wise County Messenger.

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