I learned to really appreciate this American tradition in a place where it was not celebrated. Our first years we felt alone without family. We joined with fellow North Americans, friends from the same background, others who knew its tradition. Uniquely cultural, Thanksgiving Day grew to include neighbors, friends and curiously interested acquaintances.
We astounded our butcher lady with our turkey orders months ahead. When they arrived they were as big as a toddler. It was like pushing it into a birth canal to fit it into our smallish oven. I needed my birthday husband to lift and shove.
Cranberries were unheard of, sweet potatoes unavailable, and pumpkin hard to find.
Italy loves all things family and food. Our national friends admired our Thanksgiving from observing it on American made movies. We began to see how much the nostalgic image depicted a scene desired and appreciated.
Our at-home celebrations had exploded, so in November 2003 we began a new tradition. A church
group came to assist us, bringing all the trimmings to share a community Thanksgiving. Tables were decorated. Wonderful smells wafted from the kitchen and costumed pilgrims greeted the guests. In a beautifully decorated massive room we expected two feasts hosting 100 each night.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the year is 1863.” The emcee announced. “Would you please stand and welcome the President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln.”
At the announcement the audience gasped and rose to its feet in awe. A facsimile of Abraham Lincoln dressed in his black wool suit and silk top hat, strode down the aisle and took the stage. Everyone shouted and clapped. Exuberant participants, the greater part of the audience had never set foot in the USA or Canada.
But I truly fell in love with Thanksgiving when the dear lady standing next to me who had once lived under the rule of Communism, grabbed my hand in a death grip and with tears streaming down her cheeks breathed, “Abrrraaamo Lee-cone.”
A tall man, with proper sobriety, unrolled a parchment and began to read the words President Lincoln spoke on October 20, 1863.
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Lincoln’s declaration birthed Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday.
Thanksgiving’s purpose returns thanks to the place it belongs. It acknowledges the Almighty as Giver and Sovereign of nations.
Delivered in the grip of civil war and deep national wounds, the 16th President begged from his listeners something even more noteworthy.
“I recommend …they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience… fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes…”
Lincoln’s prayer and intent set aside the day as an intentional spiritual reckoning. He called for remembrance of God’s mercy, recognition of His blessings and national repentance.
Our country and the entire world has been through a lot in the last year and a half. We’ve grieved over lost loved ones. We’ve faced fear and uncertainty. And things are messy.
Thanksgiving Day we lift our eyes higher. Though there may be devastation around us, sorrow may be housed inside us, unrest and an unsure tomorrows before us, today we give thanks. We take our eyes off what we see and realize there is an unseen reality truer than any other we can touch or feel. We turn our hearts again toward God, set our stake in the promises of His Word, and praise with every fiber of our being.
“…kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and women,
old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” Psalm 148:11-13 NIV
Contrary to what my children say, my husband’s birthday and the President’s declaration did not happen the same year, but both were life changing. We plan to celebrate with family, eat far too much, laugh about how old my husband is and thank Jesus with all our hearts.
We’ll walk through crunchy leaves, listen to stories and connect with those far from our table on little screens. This Thanksgiving Day we’ll be grateful for hard fought freedom in a country never perfect, but where a perfect God has placed us for “Divine purposes.”