“I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalms 116: 17). To conceive of giving thanks as a sacrifice sounds strange. Particularly in this day and age when sacrifice is the last thing in the world we should want to do, why give thanks? In the Muslim East, they fast for a month during Ramadan. Muslims will give up food and water and sensual pleasures during daylight hours, in order to purify themselves spiritually and reinvigorate a sense of gratitude for the daily blessings God bestows. In theory, they give up something but gain something else of greater value. Sacrifice is defined as a giving up or foregoing of some valued thing for the sake of something of greater value or having more pressing claim. Giving thanks is a bit more esoteric than, say, giving up a camel steak and saffron rice till the sun goes down. But when we do give thanks, it is indeed for the sake of something of greater value. Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude and appreciation, an acknowledgment of kindness or favor; and when we give thanks, the giving of it results in a conjunction of spirit twixt man and God. The thing we gain of greater value is a special harmony and atonement, or if you prefer, the experience of at onement with Him. So if you’ve struggled finding that perfect gift ‘for the Man who has everything,’ try a little thanks and praise. His response is fabulous. And all you’ve given up or foregone is the selfish sense of who you are, the nagging needs and imperfect conditions that surround you, for a moment or on a day like Thanksgiving. We avail ourselves of what we have in the instant we give thanks.
When I consulted a children’s dictionary to see what it said about Thanksgiving, it said only this: ‘a national holiday celebrated the fourth Thursday in November.’ Other than mentioning that the word was a noun, there was no indication of the substance in the word itself. It reminded me of the hollowness about so many words these days like Republic, Constitution and liberty. And all the words are related, you see, because Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. commemorates the first harvest reaped by the Plymouth Colony (Massachusetts) in 1621, when Pilgrims celebrated their survival with a feast. This nation grew from their modest, humble start. And the constancy of faith and heritage that makes the Pilgrims part of who we are today, which partially knits the fabric of what it means to be an American, has always included a regular resort to thanksgiving. No holiday is more uniquely American in fact, though other nations have emulated our example. No activity is more patriotic moreover, than observing together this special Day, as one nation under God, giving thanks for our many blessings. For even in times of war and the sacrifice of blood and treasure, there is reason for the additional sacrifice of thanksgiving. In the darkest days of the War Between the States, Lincoln nevertheless proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. When war raged about the globe and the specter of fascism threatened, Congress by joint resolution in 1941 decreed Thanksgiving Day should be the fourth Thursday of every November.
So if this is why and what we do, what shall you say? As I imagine, there are many who find themselves too hardened or bruised, perhaps too cynical to be easily thankful. Yet say at least as much as possible. I am grateful for life, even in diminished quality; and for love in any measure—mine or someone else’s. I am grateful for friendships long enduring, and others freshly new. I am grateful for family far and near, imperfect and oft times mistaken, precious always nonetheless; for home and a place that’s real, for the better home here in my heart and in my mind’s eye; and for the one that waits, fashioned without hands eternal in the heavens. I am grateful for freedom and those who defend it, though relative and constrained at times, peer pressured and overregulated, it is subject still to the will of the people and to political redress. I am grateful for plenty in this land, for the challenge of pushing away the pumpkin pie rather than scratching the earth for kernels. I am grateful for thought and the ability to reason, to be sentient, to consider, reflect, mull it over and realize, yea even with all the human limitations, open to wonder and awe. I am grateful too for music, and for the butterfly I saw upon a rose.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he ran for U.S. Congress (TX-District 31) in the 2004 Republican Primary. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.