The United States’ celebration of THANKSGIVING is rather unique, though Canada also celebrates a Thanksgiving Day in October. But ours is firmly planted on the fourth Thursday in November, due to a joint resolution of Congress signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941.
The day was set aside to remind us of our bountiful beginnings in this new world and the gratitude felt by the early settlers for a plentiful harvest. A celebration took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts and tradition states that Chief Massasoit and his Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans brought deer meat to share with the English settlers. Corn, shellfish and some other roasted meats completed the celebratory meal. All participants could look from the bluffs of the New Land to the vast ocean beyond and just wonder at the power and beauty surrounding them. All were welcome at that feast.
Similarly, when Marty Haugen wrote his famous hymn All Our Welcome (Let Us Build A House) there were times when in some churches the words coming from the pulpit were not inclusive. ALL were not welcome. Thankfully, that is changing because of openness in the hearts of many people, a deeper understanding of differences and a desire to share. Most wanted the change and believed in the change. They desired that the words to Haugen’s hymn would truly have meaning. And now in many churches and congregations all are truly welcomed.
But this Thanksgiving, when we gather with our families, there will still be people working to bring food to our Thanksgiving tables or clean our homes or care for our children and our gardens who don’t always feel welcome. They desire and need a pathway to come out of the shadows. It’s more change to get our heads around, but it needs to happen.
And I propose a test. Why not reread the words on the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! With hearts and minds open to understanding, we can all acknowledge that we are a country of immigrants and that living by the words on mighty Liberty make us one and make us proud.
Let’s realize that the diversity of peoples in our country is what makes it strong and unique. When we do that, Thanksgiving Day will have the meaning it should have. My immigrant ancestors came from Germany but I bear no special privileges. Instead, I am totally grateful for my life in this country—grateful to my great-grandparents for making an arduous journey, grateful to my parents for loving, caring and educating me and grateful to the United States for the freedom that it still provides.