Amid recent debates of whether it’s OK to listen to Christmas songs or watch yuletide movies before Halloween, all I could think about was that once November hits, my favorite holiday season is finally here: Thanksgiving.
I love Christmas, but let’s leave that to December. This month is all about the greatest holiday born right here in the US of A.
The tradition of Thanksgiving draws on images of Pilgrims in 1621, but the first official day of Thanksgiving in America was announced by President George Washington in 1789. He declared that year’s Thursday, Nov. 26, a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
That was it, until Sarah Josepha Hale, an influential magazine editor in the 1800s (and the composer of the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) began an annual campaign calling for Thanksgiving to become an annual holiday.
She finally succeeded in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of every November as an official Thanksgiving holiday.
This all-American holiday remains one of my favorites. I like turkey and pie as much as the next guy, but the real reason for the season is its spirit of gratitude.
It’s a day of deep meaning for those of us with faith in a giver of all good gifts.
Meister Eckhart said that, if the only prayer that a person said was “thanks,” that might just be enough.
This holiday and spirit of thankfulness is also powerful for any of us, whether believers or not, who simply want to enrich our lives by recognizing with appreciation the things that make this life better.
Over the past few years I’ve tried to expand the Thanksgiving holiday to fill the month of November. I’ve done it in various ways, all of them valuable.
One year I decided to compile a list of “songs of Thanksgiving,” one for each day of the month. It was a surprisingly moving and meaningful experience, and the songs themselves surprised me with their richness and variety. (You can listen to them at www.bit.ly/Thanksgiving-Songs or download a songbook to play along at home at www.bit.ly/Thanksgiving-Songbook)
Another year, I posted each day on Facebook with something for which I was grateful, and encouraged others to do the same using the hashtag #ThirtyDaysofThankfulness. That was also a rewarding project, and you’re welcome to join in.
This year I aspire to try something a little different — and potentially even more powerful.
Each day of November, I’ll be making a phone call, dropping by in person, or sending an email, an online direct message or maybe even an old-fashioned stick-a-stamp-on-it card to someone to tell them thanks. Sometimes it will be for something they did, big or small, recently or years ago. Sometimes it will be just a specific expression of what they mean to me.
The notes can be short, but I know that sometimes they’ll be long. The phone calls might drop to voicemail, or they might be our first conversation in far too long.
The in-person visit will be unexpected, maybe even a little awkward at first, but I’m going to push through that like George Washington pushed across the Delaware River in the ice.
I know that many of you are cozied up already with Christmas cheer, and I look forward to joining you come December.
But this month is all about thanksgiving, and I’m glad I finally get to go public to share my holiday spirit with the people who deserve to hear my thanksgiving come out of the blue during this chilly, beautiful time of year.
Brian Mittge’s column appears each Saturday in The Chronicle. He’d love to hear what you’re thankful for — drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.