Thanksgiving may be understood and expressed at different levels.
At the simplest level, a person may be thankful because he or she has been privileged with something not all others may possess. One of the oldest manifestations of this version states, “I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
The next level of thanksgiving reflects an “attitude of gratitude” – an expression more general in nature, but heartfelt because of an awareness that this earth is a sphere of scarcity.
But the highest level of thanksgiving is the intensely personal expression of thanksgiving directed to the source of all goodness – Almighty God Himself – in whose great hands are our lives and our very breath.
The psalmist of old wrote: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).
Thanksgiving Day expresses a rich Christian heritage. The first Thanksgiving was among the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, when Governor Bradford declared a special day of gratitude to Almighty God for their first harvest.
Two years later, in 1623, a day of prayer and fasting in the midst of drought was changed into Thanksgiving by the coming of rain during their prayers. Christian colonial America adopted this custom begun by the Pilgrims, and the practice continued for 150 years.
Nov. 26, 1789, President George Washington issued a general proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving to God for His blessings upon the new nation. With Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863, Thanksgiving became an annual observance in America and a custom deeply embedded in our national consciousness.
In days of declining prosperity, we all might appreciate the very meaningful tradition begun by our Pilgrim forebears. For many years after the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrim parents placed five humble kernels of corn upon each family member’s dinner plate before the Thanksgiving Day meal. When their children asked the meaning of these kernels, the parents explained that at one time, food was so scarce in Plymouth Colony that each person was given five corn kernels daily in order to stay alive. And they were very grateful and filled with thanks.
Many Americans – having forgotten our humble national origins and deluded themselves into thinking they are the source of all they enjoy – are being given a good, long look at such folly as they see poverty once again prevalent among us.
Let us remember that while we may have no shoes, others still have no feet. Let us regain the lost attitude of gratitude. But let us especially – together – reclaim once again the humble recognition that all we have is truly a gift from Almighty God.
“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him and bless his name.”
The Rt. Rev. Ron Johnson is rector of St. Paul’s Anglican Church and Canterbury Christian School, 101 N. El Monte Ave., Los Altos. For more information, visit stpaulsanglicanchurch.org.