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Gratitude in Coming Together

If you turn on the news it seems like Americans have nothing left in common. There seems to be more that drives us apart than brings us together.

Any shared vision of the common good seems beyond our reach. Yet even in our divided disposition Americans continue to celebrate Thanksgiving year after year. If we can, we take the day off from work. We gather with friends and family. We feast, watch football, attend parades. We try to put aside our differences, invite those who have no place to go and remember what we are grateful for. We use the traditions we enjoy to create harmony.

In 2022 According to the NFL and Nielsen, an average of 44.1 million viewers watched NFL games on Turkey Day. One in ten of us united to cheer for the teams we love. Thousands of families don their own jerseys to play a friendly game of football in the crisp autumn air. Many of us get our first glimpse of Santa in local Thanksgiving parades and festivals while others don’t feel like the day is complete without at least a few minutes of Macy’s annual gala.

There are Thanksgiving tables spread all across America and while many of us debate whether the sweet potatoes should have marshmallows or not according to YouGovAmerica, 83% of people in America have turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, 78% have mashed potatoes, 74% have rolls, and 67% eat ham. The menu may have altered over the years since Massasoit and ninety of his tribe sat with the pilgrims, but the tradition of gathering in peace has endured.

The fact that Americans have carried on this tradition may strike some as puzzling.

But it gains significance in light of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s understanding of Thanksgiving’s purpose: to offer thanks to the Creator.

Both presidents believed we owe our Creator gratitude for the gifts he freely bestows upon us out of an abundant mercy. Washington and Lincoln saw Thanksgiving as a day in which Americans recognize the unique blessings of liberty and prosperity God bestowed upon the nation.

In his 1789 Thanksgiving Address, Washington urged the American people to “unite in the rendering unto [God] our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation—for the single and manifold mercies, and for the favorable interpretation of His providence in the course and conclusion of the last war.”

Abraham Lincoln echoed Washington’s gratitude in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation. Amid the Civil War, Lincoln urged the American people to offer up thanks to their Creator, and to do so with “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience,” and “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers.”

Lincoln urged the American people, amid deadly strife, to thank their Creator for the blessings of liberty and prosperity bestowed upon them.

Despite political strife, we continue to celebrate this American holiday up to the present day. If nothing else, this lasting desire for true leisure, expressed through gratitude, is what continues to unite Americans as one nation, under God.

So, gather! Spend the day feasting, playing, watching, prying. Whatever traditions you celebrate, use them to bring together those you love and recognize the synthesizing grace of the holiday season.

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