Nearly 400 years ago a group of colonists from England came to start a new colony in America where they could have religious freedom. The winter of 1620 was a rough one. Half of the conolnists did not survive the winter. It was only from the help of the local Wampanoag tribe that the colony survived. They taught the colonists how to raise native plants to eat and find animals to hunt. Their first harvest festival brought together about 50 colonists and 90 natives in a three day celebratory feast (along with games, sports, dancing, and singing). (There is, of course, plenty of bad things the Europeans brought against the Native Americans, but for this feast--at least in our idealistic history that I want to give hope to for one day--both colonists and natives are in community with each other, in a peaceful relationship.)
As was in their religious nature, they gave thanks. This was not relegated to one day. It was part of who they were.
We put up a large sheet of paper on the wall where we've been trying to write at least one thing we're thankful for each day. It's fun to see it fill up.
It's not a new practice. Each night we include "What are you thankful for?" as part of the boys' bedtime routine. Books like 10,000 Gifts remind us that thanksgiving can change our daily attitudes.
Last night we drove to Madison, Wisconsin, with a young woman from China (a colleague of my wife's) to have a celebration with my in-laws. It's been interesting to see her experience Thanksgiving for the first time. I'm sure in her eyes it is mostly about family and food as we gather. My in-laws don't to anything overtly religious other than praying before the meal. They don't have any big family traditions of going around the table and sharing what each is thankful for this year. But they gather together and enjoy the time with each other. We take a walk, we play games, we laugh, and we talk. And though none may voice a list of gratitude, it is clear that we are thankful to be together and enjoy the each other's presence.
As we wind down the evening watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials, the juxtaposition of the constant Black Friday commercials convincing us that what we gave thanks for is not enough--we need more. Giving thanks is not easy. Our busy schedules prevent us from taking the time to realize what all we have been giving. Our capitilistic society keeps telling us that we need more to be happy. Contentment is fleeting.
I know for me that I need to take more time throughout each day taking note of what I have been giving, of what I have to be thankful for. I have much. God has been good. For all I have--for my family and friends, home and health, provision and protection, forgiveness and grace--I am thankful. Today and each day.