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Giving thanks where thanks is due

This Thursday, if not earlier, many of us will be heading home to visit with family and friends for a hearty Thanksgiving dinner. This is the tradition that most of us share as Americans. The day after Thanksgiving is known as the kick-off shopping day for the holiday season.

It is not uncommon at this time of year for people to get on their high horse and lecture their fellow Americans on the original meaning of these holidays. It is not uncommon for these same people to engage in the very same behavior that they are criticizing. They will suggest that they too are inevitably drawn into the popular culture and must comply.

This is not really true. If a person truly wants to make a change in the world, they can do it with a strong desire and genuine self-discipline. One of the most fundamental quotations among our age group is Mahatma Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

This quotation challenges our typical assumptions about politics. Often we feel deep in our souls that we should vote for a democratic candidate because they care for “poor people.” However, if we really examine Gandhi’s quotation, he is not calling on us to ask of our politicians to make a change, but he wants us to make a change in our own lives. What Gandhi really wants of us is that we should go out into the world and care for poor people. Are any of us going to have poor people over for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? Think about it.

Now, a lot of what Americans do during this time of year is actually not as debased as the critics will tell us. Perhaps there is a lot of crass materialism and superficiality at this time of year. However, there remains deep value in our assemblage into our family units. Even if we do not bring poor people into our homes for Thanksgiving dinner, the time with families is quite valuable. Sharing gifts with our relatives and friends helps us to celebrate and be glad about the past year. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this at all.

As for the people on the high horse making lectures, I am one of them. Yet I myself engage in many very selfish pursuits. Therefore, I want put out the disclaimer that I am a hypocrite. Nevertheless, I believe firmly there is value if we look to the traditions that underlie the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Many of the traditions behind Thanksgiving have very religious undertones. Many of the early gubernatorial proclamations for a “Day of Public Thanksgiving and praise” make reference to “our Lord Jesus Christ.”

One such example is John Hancock’s 1791 Massachusetts Thanksgiving Proclamation. In John Hancock’s proclamation that year (the same John Hancock that signed the Declaration of Independence and was the governor of Massachusetts during this time), published in the statewide newspaper, the Columbian Centinel, it says boldly:

“I have therefore thought fit to appoint, and by the advice and consent of the Council, do hereby accordingly appoint, Thursday, the seventeenth of November next, to be observed as a Day of Public Thanksgiving and praise, throughout this Commonwealth – Hereby calling upon Ministers and People of every denomination, to assemble on the said Day – and in the name of the Great Mediator, devoutly and sincerely offer to Almighty God, the gratitude of our Hearts, for all his goodness towards us …”

Based on other portions of the publication, “the name of the Great Mediator” appears to be reference to Jesus Christ. It seems truly that the purpose of Thanksgiving is to thank and to elevate God for all of His great blessings upon ourselves and upon our nation.

It is considerate to think about this, because most of our other solemn civic and national occasions tend to honor human beings for their great sacrifices. Either they may be our war veterans or our war dead (Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day), our great leaders (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day), and even our workers (Labor Day), but, seriously, what about God himself, the source of life abundant?

In our day of rampant secularism and materialism, it is indeed proper for all of us, myself included (as I am knee-deep in materialistic pursuits), to truly reflect upon the greatness of the created Universe that we owe all of the credit to God. As an undeserving people and nation, we benefit over and over again from the great mercy and compassion of a great and awesome God. This is truly an enormous cause for all of us to offer up extraordinary thanksgiving and praise.

Eric Magazu a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at emagazu@student.umass.edu.

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