Giving thanks for our freedom and our peace

In the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, , Americans look forward to going home, reuniting with family and sitting down to enjoy a table full of turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes and pies.  But in the midst of all the holiday excitement, it is easy to lose sight of the reason for the season. Thanksgiving is a time for us to pause from the hustle of everyday life and reflect on what we are really thankful for.

This year America went through a contentious presidential election filled with spirited debates and heated (and in some cases, downright nasty) dialogue. Over the course of the last year, people from every party have voiced their opinions about the candidates and the future of our country. America is more divided then ever politically, yet we still live in peace. We are lucky to live in a country where you can express your opinion without fear of punishment. This is something too many take for granted. We should remember that there are oppressed people all over the world who are forbidden from expressing themselves. We may not all agree on politics, but this Thanksgiving, let???s give thanks for living in a country where our right to disagree is protected.

We must also remember that freedom comes with a price.  It always has and always will . When we sit down to dinner with family we should remember the other families who are sitting down with an empty chair at the table. Thousands of  men and women ???all volunteers-have left their loved ones behind to fight for our freedom 365 days of the year, day and night.  Let???s be thankful for our men and women in uniform and their families who sacrifice so much for the rest of us.

Today we enjoy our freedoms and four hundred years ago, the first Thanksgiving celebrated freedom too.  In 1620, the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  They fled from religious persecution and were determined to make a better life for all in North America.  Since the Pilgrims were not accustomed to the severe Massachusetts winter, the Indians brought them food to save them from starvation. They would not have made it through their first winter without the help of the Indians. The following year, the Pilgrims knew what to expect and their conditions improved in Massachusetts, which led to a productive harvest season.  To celebrate and give thanks to God for a good harvest, the Pilgrims invited the Indians, who were generous to them the previous winter, for a three-day feast. This idea of a feast is the same one we now know as Thanksgiving.

Since we???ve always known Thanksgiving to be an annual tradition, there???s a common misconception that it was annually celebrated after 1621.  For the next 150 years, American colonists only celebrated Thanksgiving when there was a purpose to celebrate. It wasn???t until 1789, when President George Washington declared a National Day of Thanksgiving, that Americans began celebrating annually.  In his Presidential Proclamation, Washington stated:  ???It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God ??? to be grateful for His benefits, and to (request) his protection and favor.  I, President Washington, recommend to the people of the United States, a day of public thanksgiving and prayer ??? to show the many favors of the Almighty and especially the opportunity for this form of government.???

President Washington???s decision to create a National Day of Thanksgiving was not widely admired throughout the colonies. For the following 70 years, a day of Thanksgiving was not routinely celebrated. However, during the early 1800s, a female magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale, began a campaign to institute a National Day of Thanksgiving. Her relentless efforts and campaign lasted 40 years. Then, in November of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, declared the National Day of Thanksgiving for the last Thursday in November, which is the same day we still celebrate it. And 78 years later, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving an official national holiday by Congress.

Everyone has a different way of celebrating Thanksgiving. Although we gave thanks for different gifts than the Pilgrims, we still come together with the same purpose. This Thanksgiving, we give thanks to God for the American rights, our troops, first responders, doctors, nurses, teachers, family, friends, and gifts of life we have been blessed with.

And that???s just the way it is.