The fourth Thursday in November is a national day of thanksgiving in the United States. The tradition is a very old one, dating to the arrival of the first English settlers in North America in the 17th century who, after their first successful harvests, paused to celebrate their bounty and give thanks for surviving their first terrible winter in what was then a wilderness.
Falling in the autumn, Thanksgiving has much in common with harvest holidays in other nations and cultures, such as Vietnam’s Trung Thu celebration and Homowo, the annual yam festival in Ghana. Still, with its turkey dinners, family gatherings, football games and parades, there’s something about the day that is distinctively American. Together with July 4th, when the U.S. marks its independence from Great Britain, it’s a truly national holiday that includes all citizens in a common purpose, regardless of religious, political or ethnic persuasion.
It also is a time for people to look back at the year, take stock and think about the future. With our nation dealing with crises in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and West Africa likely will be on many minds today. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first official Thanksgiving amid similar serious circumstances, the American Civil War.
But like their colonial ancestors, Americans are essentially an optimistic people. Surrounded by friends and family, today as in the past, they will enter into the spirit of the day, giving thanks for life’s blessings and the promise of the future living in a free land.