Thanksgiving: Our National Holy Day
by Fr. George Morelli
For all practical purposes, Thanksgiving Day is the closest we come to a national holy day in the United States. Historically, it has been celebrated with everything from religious thankfulness, food, frolic and of course modern commercialism. Despite this, it is still a time for many Americans to ‘count their blessings’ and get together with family and/or friends.
Sometimes our approach to life stops us from ‘counting our blessings and giving thanksgiving to God. Psychologists call this pessimism. It is the belief that “bad events will undermine everything they do.” (Seligman, 1990). It is like always seeing the cup ‘half empty’. Those with optimism, confronted with “hard knocks” approach them as a challenge and try harder. Optimists tend to see the cup ‘half full’. They are thankful for what they have and work harder.
Common to our American national heritage is the action of our first president, George Washington who in 1789 declared a national thanksgiving holiday honoring the newly ratified Constitution, proclaiming: the people could thank God for "affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."
Thanksgiving is part of many religious traditions: St. Paul told the Romans (14:5-6): ”One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God;” The psalmist tells us: “All thy works shall give thanks to thee, O Lord, and all thy saints shall bless thee! (Ps 145:10). The Koran states: "And He gives you all that ye ask for. But if you count the favors of God, never would you be able to number them" (14:34). A Native American Iroquois thanksgiving prayer ends with the words: “we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his children.”
Some have taken the words of Deuteronomy (26:10) “I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, O Lord, hast given me. And you shall set it down before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God”, and applied this as an offering to God of themselves. They forgo being with family and friends and give themselves to others in need, serving in food kitchens and the like.
However we commemorate this "Holyday," let us see the fullness of the cup of gifts God has given us, and be thankful praying: “Glory to thee, who hast called me to life, … revealed to us the beauty of the universe … Glory to thee O God in ages!” (Akathist of Thanksgiving, Metropolitan Tryphon of Turkestan).
Seligman, M.E.P. (1990). Learned Optimism. NY: Pocket Books.
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, (www.antiochian.org/counse...) and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.