The ambiguous history of Thanksgiving

Invocation. “Give Thanks,” Abyssinian Baptist Church choir, New York City.

The cultivation of gratitude and the practice of thanksgiving
From a 2018 article

        The topic of gratitude has become a marketing trend in publishing over the past decade—confirmed, most recently, in Diana Butler Bass’ best-selling Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, not to mention a score of books written by and for the “positive psychology” school of authors and readers.

Scientists continue to provide confirmation of things mystics have promoted for eons: that singing is good for personal and communal health; that a cultivated devotional life tends to extend life expectancy; that wealth is not neutral but actually diminishes the capacity for empathy; that even the spiritual hunch that everything-is-connected is being confirmed by ecologists, cosmologists, and quantum physicists.

—continue reading “The cultivation of gratitude and the practice of thanksgiving

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“Come ye fearful people come / Cast your sighs to highest heav’n / Yet—though terror’s harvest spread, / Casting sorrow in its stead— / Still the Promise doth endure / Life abounding to secure / Come, ye thankful hearts, confess / Mercy’s lien o’er earth’s distress.” —Ken Sehested, new verse to “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”

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Why is it hard to say thanks?

• Often, just because we’re not paying attention.

• The barrage of demands on our time and energy creates “tunnel vision,” making it difficult to see anything that’s not directly in front of our noses.

• The world owes me! Why should I say thanks for the things I deserve?

• Saying thanks means I will be in someone’s debt—I’ll have to return the favor later on—and I’ve already gone beyond my credit limit.

• Saying thank you is a form of weakness—and there are many predators out there looking to exploit such weakness.

• My Momma taught me to say please-and-thank-you, but she doesn’t know how the world really works.

• To thank someone is to admit they are your equal. And if you are equal, then I’m not special.

• If you’re going to succeed in this life, you’ve got to have an edge. Saying thanks dulls the edge.

• Saying thanks is admitting I’m not self-sufficient. I don’t do dependency. Only the strong survive.

• I work hard. I earned what I got. I’m the captain of my own ship, and I don’t take on passengers.

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Familiar hymn, new arrangement. “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” —Leigh Nash

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The disremembered history of the
Thanksgiving holiday in the United States of America

The first official declaration of a Thanksgiving Day did not come in 1621, when the Plymouth Puritans sharing a 3-day feast with the local Wampanoag natives, who had taught the undocumented immigrants how to fish, farm, and generally fend for themselves.

Rather, it wasn’t until 1637 that Plymouth colony Governor William Bradford officially declared an annual day of thanks. And he did so in direct response to the Pilgrims’ massacre of some 500 men, women and children of the Pequot tribe (survivors were sold into slavery) along the Mystic River.

He wrote, “the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

He then went on to record details of the event occasion that was to be annually commemorated.

“It was a fearful sight to see [the Pequot] thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and [we] gave the praise thereof to God.”

Many know better than to believe the mythology behind the US Thanksgiving holiday, of peace-loving Pilgrims and generous Native Americans setting down to feast. But barely a generation after that encounter, English settler authorities were issuing bounties on the heads of native peoples—the scalps of men, women, and children. Such as Massachusetts Bay Lieutenant Governor Spencer Phips’ edict declaring the Penobscot people a target of extermination and commanding “his Majesty’s Subjects of this Province to Embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing, and Destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians”. —, Guardian

President George Washington, in his first terms of office, declared a “day of thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789, months after the US Constitution was formally approved. But the observance did not become an annual event until October 1863, declared by President Abraham Lincoln who announced an annual observance of the holiday weeks after the Union pivotal victory at Gettysburg during the Civil War.

Unfortunately, the history of thanksgiving observance in the US is tied to violent conflict.

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Benediction. “Psalm 117: Give Thanks to the Lord” (Arabic).

17 November 2023