By DANNY MINTON
“Thanksgiving Thursday” has officially been part of the American culture since around 1863. At that time, the government decided that the country would observe Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. During that time, the Christmas season didn’t start until the day after Thanksgiving. In 1939 a group of merchants complained that there were times when Thanksgiving fell on the last day of November and, in a sense, robbed them of a significant shopping weekend.
On October 31, 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a proclamation that Thanksgiving would be observed on the next to last Thursday of the month to help the nation’s economic recovery. Not all states accepted the proclamation, and while 32 changed to the new date, 16 states refused. The debate would continue over the next two years while the nation celebrated Thanksgiving on two separate dates. In October of 1941, the House met and decided to set the official date of Thanksgiving back to the last Thursday in November. The Senate disagreed with moving the date back to the original date. Finally, the House and Senate united. On December 9, 1941, two days after the Pearl Harbor attack and the day after the United States had declared war on Japan, they voted to make Thanksgiving Day the fourth Thursday of November officially. On December 26, 1941, Roosevelt signed the new proclamation.
When I first learned of this debate, it struck me as strange that in the middle of economic depression and then the day after our country entered a new war, the nation was debating the date for Thanksgiving. I thought, “Was it so important that this discussion take place?” On the day President Roosevelt signed the proclamation, the House chamber filled with congressmen, senators, Supreme Court justices, and other officials to hear Winston Churchill address our country about our joint preparation for war with Germany and Japan. Sometime during Churchill’s visit, our President took time to declare the official date for Thanksgiving. How could a nation even think of being thankful with so many struggling to survive and many preparing to send their sons into harm’s way?
This year’s Thanksgiving will find itself being much like many in the past. We’ll get together with some of our family for a “Thanksgiving Feast.” There will be turkey and ham along with a myriad of side dishes, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, mac and cheese, deviled eggs, dressing, and of course, cranberry sauce. On another table sits pumpkin pie, pecan pie, cakes, fudge, and other high-calorie goodies. I would imagine that most who read this will have something similar in your family Thanksgiving tradition.
The day will start with the parades across all the major television stations, followed by the feast, movies, football, and naps. There will be some sadness for families missing someone this year, but there will be joy and laughter for those who have come together for the annual celebration.
Most of our families will take time to be thankful. Some will go around and let each person tell what they are most grateful for this year. We will express our thankfulness for family and friends. We may be thankful for some good fortune that came our way, a new baby, a new job, or some other event that has blessed our lives. We will be thankful for all the good that has happened over the past year.
However, some things in our lives never cross our minds as things for which we should be thankful. Things are a part of our lives that we might ask, “Why should I be thankful for this?” Let me call it “Unseen Thankfulness.” These are things or events that come our way, which, if looked upon differently, can bring thankfulness into our lives.
Our Thanksgiving dinner is great the first time through and even for leftovers that evening. As we pull them out of the refrigerator for the third or fourth time, we might complain, “I’m tired of leftovers!” Have we ever stopped to think how thankful we should be that there are leftovers in the kitchen? Some people would love our leftovers, people who struggle on a daily journey trying to provide food for their families. Be thankful you are blessed with leftovers.
Many will head to the stores as “Black Friday” sales become abundant. There will be pushing and shoving with crowds of people trying to get a deal. There will be complaints about so many people. People will grumble because what they want has been sold out. There will be people who are angry, crying children, and frustrated store clerks. Before we fall into the “gripe” mode, stop and think how blessed we are to live in a country so abundant in choices. While we push through the crowds shopping for gifts and treasures, others at different types of stores sort through piles of used clothes, looking for things to wear from our discarded clothes from our overpacked closets. Be thankful you are blessed with the means to push through the crowded stores and crowds.
When you must pay $3 a gallon for gasoline, be thankful you have a car that needs it. When the power goes out at your home, be thankful you have a house in which to live. When your shoes and socks get wet after stepping in a cold puddle, be thankful you have another pair to put on. Life is full of so many things for which we should be thankful, unseen things, not because they are invisible, but because we fail to look for them.
My challenge to you this holiday season is to find ways to be thankful in all sets of circumstances. Look for the positive in every situation you find yourself in over the holidays. Even the worst of the places we find ourselves will have some unseen lesson to teach.
Poverty and war loomed over the people of the country in the 1930s and ’40s. Yet, despite all that was happening, the idea of Thanksgiving remained in the hearts and minds of the people. If the men, women, and children of the depression and World War II eras could find time to be thankful, shouldn’t we in times like ours?
As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB)
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ