Thanksgiving is an American holiday. So, it's not surprising that on Thursday, many of us will celebrate by stuffing ourselves with food and watching football on television. It can't get more American than that.
But isn't there more to Thanksgiving Day than this? Whom are we thanking, and for what are we thankful?
Some say Thanksgiving isn't a religious holiday. Really? Let's recall a little history.
The first Thanksgiving dates back to the Pilgrims. These hearty folks sought religious freedom, boarded the little Mayflower, crossed the Atlantic, were blown off course and ultimately all came ashore in November 1620 in what is now Plymouth, Mass. Before disembarking, though, they drew up "The Mayflower Compact," which noted that the purpose of their voyage was "for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith."
They suffered dearly, with about half the colony perishing during that first winter. In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims gave thanks for their first harvest and for the local Indians, including Squanto, who helped them survive. Specifically, they were giving thanks to God, and this gave birth to our Thanksgiving tradition.
Fast-forward 242 years, and we discover that President Abraham Lincoln's proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday was deeply religious. He noted that, even as the Civil War raged, the nation had much for which to be thankful.
Lincoln declared: "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
He called for Americans "to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens." (The date was changed decades later to the fourth Thursday.)
And given that it was a time of war, Lincoln recommended that the people "commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it."
Such sentiments certainly could apply today, as American soldiers and members of our intelligence communities continue to wage war against terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In places across the nation, including on Long Island, we are regularly reminded of the price paid by those protecting our country and their families. Just consider three local examples reported late last month:
The Defense Department announced that Army 2nd Lt. Timothy R. Blair, a graduate of Oyster Bay High School, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor. The department's announcement noted that during an attack on a truck convoy in Iraq, Blair's "bravery, selfless service and leadership prevented further casualties, and his actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military heroism."
Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy from Patchogue posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroics in trying to save his fellow commandos and perishing during a firefight with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan in June 2005.
And Maj. Jeffrey R. Calero, a highly decorated Army Special Forces soldier, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded while he was on patrol in Afghanistan. Calero grew up in Queens Village.
These and so many other soldiers risk, and, as with Murphy and Calero, give their lives to protect each of us. That most assuredly is worthy of thanks. We'll be thanking them, their loved ones and, as Lincoln suggested, God, for these courageous souls on this Thanksgiving Day.
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