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Revelations: Thanksgiving to God

Nov. 25, 2011 at 5:25 a.m.

Jennifer Preyss

BY JENNIFER PREYSS

Is it just me, or did this year fly by? I can't believe it's time for the holidays again. Not that I'm complaining. I love this time of year: the decorations, the food, the cheerful weeks of "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas" greetings from strangers, as I walk in and out of various stores.

And I love Thanksgiving week because it's finally socially acceptable to listen to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" Internet radio station on Pandora. Yes, I'm that girl.

Growing up, Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Preyss home, better known as Forced Family Holiday Funtime, was unquestionably the best time of year. Yes, we drove each other crazy, and someone always ended up drinking too much wine and yelling inappropriate slurs across the dinner table. But the holidays also fostered my family's ability to laugh those painful, tear-jerking laughs, and let ourselves enjoy each others' company.

The Preyss holiday season kicked off a few days before Thanksgiving, and everyone started looking forward to Mom's turkey and cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, and about 10 other dishes prepared to pop buttons off pants and shirts. Mom always used the holidays to pretend she was cooking for a small village in South America. I guess most mothers do.

And, as we sat around the china-and-food adorned dining room table (the room exclusively reserved for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners), my father made everyone express one thing they were thankful for that year. But the thanksgiving salutes as a child and teenager weren't always offered to God.

As I've grown into my adult Christian identity, reflecting on what I'm thankful for has become a more recurring item on my prayer list. I don't wait for Thanksgiving anymore to feel thankful for the provision the Lord allows me throughout the year. And I realize now, especially on Thanksgiving, that everything I have to feel thankful for directly stems from God.

And while my family's Thanksgiving traditions growing up, like many other Americans who celebrate the holiday, weren't necessarily God-centered, it was interesting this week to discover the holiday was historically intended to acknowledge God for his provision.

I spent many hours of research locating and writing about the origins of Thanksgiving this week, for what was supposed to be a quick charticle on the religious ties to Thanksgiving. But what I discovered really surprised me. I remember learning about the Pilgrims and the Indians in middle school, but I suppose I forgot many of the details about the Mayflower Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621 Plymouth. After a difficult year of surviving in the New World, the Pilgrims - who were Christian Separatists fleeing England for civil and religious freedoms from the Church of England - celebrated a three-day feast with their Native American allies to thank God for the year's successful harvest. The first year was challenging for the colonists, who suffered extreme illness and death during and after arriving on land. They also had to adjust to harvesting crops on foreign soil. The native tribes helped English colonists harvest corn, extract sap from maple trees and fish from the rivers. And when it seemed they had enough food to go around, the English held a feast celebration to offer thanks to God, and invited their Indian friends to join. So the tradition remained through the centennials.

Presidents George Washington, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt each signed governmental Thanksgiving proclamations during their tenure, setting aside one day for the American people to be thankful and prayerful to God. I read through many of the proclamations, and was moved by the poetic language of government. One Thanksgiving proclamation in particular, written by Coolidge in 1926, really captured the spirit of this holiday for me - what I want it be every year, and how I hope it remains in the years to come.

"As a nation and as individuals, we have passed another 12 months in the favor of the Almighty. He has smiled upon our fields and they have brought forth plentifully; business has prospered; industries have flourished, and labor has been well employed. While sections of our country have been visited by disaster, we have been spared any great national calamity or pestilential visitation. We are blessed among the nations of the earth.

"Our moral and spiritual life has kept measure with our material prosperity. We are not unmindful of the gratitude we owe to God for his watchful care which has pointed out to us the ways of peace and happiness; we should not fail in our acknowledgment of his divine favor which has bestowed upon us so many blessings. Neither should we be forgetful of those among us who, through stress of circumstances, are less fortunately placed, but by deeds of charity make our acknowledgment more acceptable in his sight.

"Wherefore, I, Calvin Coolidge, president of the United States, do hereby set apart Thursday, the 25th day of November next as a day of general thanksgiving and prayer, and I recommend that on that day the people shall cease from their daily work, and in their homes or in their accustomed places of worship, devoutly give thanks to the Almighty for the many and great blessings they have received, and seek his guidance that through good deeds and brotherly love they may deserve a continuance of his favor."

Amen, Coolidge. And Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com.

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