Thanksgiving 2020: More important than ever to count our blessings and give thanks

Much of the news on a daily basis is disturbing, including that of an ongoing pandemic, but Americans have much to be thankful for. And we have a wonderful tradition of giving thanks on a special day.

Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday. It began with some of the first British colonists to journey to the New World. The Pilgrims, about 102 people, sailed for some two months on the Mayflower, kept in the cargo space during violent storms. They reached Plymouth Rock on Dec. 11, 1620, near the beginning of winter.

The climate in New England was harsh, and nearly half the group died during the cold winter. The next spring, a Native American called Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to grow food to survive. During a severe drought in the summer of 1621, the Pilgrims held a day of fasting and prayer and asked for a bountiful harvest. Rain soon followed.

It is believed that a thanksgiving feast was held that autumn, with Indian neighbors invited. Some historians doubt this account because they say the Pilgrims would have fasted on such a day. However, the leader of the colony later wrote a report listing the menu, which included ducks and geese. Turkey was not mentioned. Boiled pumpkin was, although a shortage of flour probably meant there was no pie.

The feast reportedly lasted three days but was not repeated until two years later, in another year of drought. A similar celebration is believed to have been held by colonists in Virginia.

All 13 colonies joined in a thanksgiving celebration in 1777, a time of victory over the British during the Revolutionary War. After several changes, President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, during the Civil War, proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. This followed a campaign by Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor. The holiday is now celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Canadians mark the day in October.

Thanksgiving ushers in the Christmas and holiday season, when many people devote some effort to helping those less fortunate. 

Food and toy drives gear up at this time to help people during the Christmas season. The needs in this area are great. Of course, these needs exist all year, but donations during this time sustain some organizations for a while. Also, they help make the holiday season brighter for some children and families.

This time for giving thanks — and overconsumption at the dinner table — is a fitting occasion to commit to joining in some of the efforts of generosity.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving this Thursday, we know that finding reasons to be thankful this year could be more challenging than usual.

Most of our tables will have empty chairs -- whether because extended family members are staying away to stem the spread of COVID-19 or because we've lost someone to the virus or other causes during these painful past few months.                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Still, it is more important than ever to count our blessings, to appreciate glimmers of light in dark times and to offer our thanks despite the darkness.

So, on Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks for those who remain healthy. And we give thanks for those who have battled COVID-19 and recovered.

We give thanks for the military keeping us safe across the globe. And we give thanks for police officers, firefighters, and first responders keeping us safe at home.

We give thanks for health care workers who risk their lives each day. And we give thanks for their families left to worry at home.

We give thanks for grocery store clerks who help us cook for our families. And we give thanks for restaurant workers willing -- and often struggling -- to do it for us.

We give thanks for the food on our Thanksgiving Day table. And we give thanks for the leftovers that will carry us through the weekend.

We give thanks for technology that allows us to stay in touch. And we give thanks for those who use it to brighten our lives.                              
We give thanks for walks along winding trails that fill our days. And we give thanks for binge-worthy TV shows that fill our nights.

We give thanks for community volunteers who help us and our neighbors. And we give thanks for organizations that fill so many needs.

We give thanks for teachers who persevere. And we give thanks for parents who pick up where the schools leave off.

We give thanks for furry friends providing comfort. And we give thanks for shelters caring for dogs and cats yet to find forever homes.

We give thanks for warehouse workers who fill our online orders. And we give thanks for delivery drivers who bring them to our doors.

We give thanks for leaders trying to prevent the pandemic's spread. 

We give thanks for researchers developing COVID-19 vaccines. And we give thanks for those who will help distribute them.

Finally, we give thanks for Thanksgivings past and present. And we give thanks for the hope we nurture now that we will get to spend the holiday together -- safely -- next year.

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