Thanksgiving: A Feast for the Soul

A Thanksgiving Plea...
Thanks to an outbreak of the bird flu this summer, grocers across the country are warning of possible turkey shortages – fewer and smaller birds for higher prices.

Luckily, the bird flu didn’t affect our region too badly, so I’m pretty sure we’ll manage to get a tasty gobbler on the table, and I’m hoping that, in the end, all of you will too – unless, of course, you opt for ham, salmon or some other palate pleasing delight.

Either way, please don’t let a vain bird, or any other main dish, steal the center stage. As Christian families, one of the best favors we can do for our kids during November is to remind them that Thanksgiving is meant above all to be a feast for the soul.

This year, Thanksgiving happens to fall on November 26th, the same date as the Thanksgiving feast George Washington proclaimed in 1789. Today, 226 years later, we don’t know what kind of pie George Washington had for desert that day, but we do know why he proclaimed the holiday, and that it had a distinctly Christian flavor: “Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being (…) that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country…” (Issued by George Washington on October 3, 1789).

George Washington Thanksgiving
And that, my friends, is the meaning of Thanksgiving. You don’t have to take it from me; it’s official – check the records. For Catholics, however, the roots of Thanksgiving go back further than George Washington’s proclamation. It even goes back further than the pilgrim’s fall feast in 1621 that gave rise to turkey and cornucopia decorations. The first recorded Thanksgiving feast on American soil actually took place over 50 years earlier, in September 1565 in St. Augustine, FL. That first feast had a Spanish flavor to it, and took place after a Mass of Thanksgiving. Spanish explorers, soldiers, sailors and civilians, as well as the native Timucuan Indians participated in both the liturgical feast, celebrating the Spaniards’ safe arrival, and the meal that followed.

The centrality of the Mass in first Florida Thanksgiving highlights another significant reality: the liturgy gives us a constant reason to be grateful.  “Eucharist” comes from the Greek eukharistia, meaning “thanksgiving” or “gratitude”. Beginning Thanksgiving Day with Mass is a very appropriate way of honoring the holiday and remembering the central role gratitude should play in the life of every Christian.

A friend of mine in high school always amused me by refusing to put salt on her food until after she’d sprinkled pepper. She insisted that if she put the pepper on first, she could see the grains of salt on top, but if she put the salt on first, the grains were too tiny and transparent, so she couldn’t see them.

Always put the pepper on first! (1)
An apt analogy for gratitude. So many blessings in life are transparent and can’t be seen unless we begin with gratitude. It’s easier to forgive others when we are grateful. It’s easier to see God’s presence in our lives when we’re grateful. It’s easier to respond to God’s love and help others when we’re grateful. It’s easier to accept ourselves, and our own life experiences, joys and struggles alike, when we’re grateful. Just about anything good, true and beautiful can be seen more clearly when viewed by a grateful heart.

I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving – the best one yet. Have fun with family and friends. Watch football if you like. Enjoy your gobbler. But please –put the pepper on first and teach your kids, or grandkids, to do the same.

* Don’t forget to make your Thanksgiving table festive with these free Thanksgiving printables.

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