Thanksgiving's unchanging appeal

Since Thanksgiving was created, politicians and residents of the District have celebrated the holiday through food, charity and religion.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 7:08 PM

IN A ROUGH and challenging time, inhabitants of this land - including different peoples not always trusting of one another - come together to give thanks and perhaps to replenish their hopes of better, safer times to come. That's the theme (at least in national legend) of the first Thanksgiving, and it's not a bad one for the fractious year 2010.

The Pilgrims gave thanks to a Protestant God at that first feast, the Indian people mostly to other spiritual forces. But the basic sentiment was universal then and is now: We are fortunate to be alive and fed and sheltered, and the proper response to our good fortune is not self-satisfaction but gratitude. Gratitude to whom or what is not as important as the understanding of our interdependence and of the necessity of caring for one another that this humble attitude fosters.

The lines formed early this year at the places where people give turkeys to those in need. The media are full of heartbreaking stories of men and women who have lost their jobs and wonder whether they will work again. In 1933, four years after the stock market crash and well into the Great Depression, the newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt made his first Thanksgiving proclamation as president. It was more of an appeal, really:

"May we ask guidance in more surely learning the ancient truth that greed and selfishness and striving for undue riches can never bring lasting happiness or good to the individual or to his neighbors. May we be grateful for the passing of dark days; for the new spirit of dependence one on another; for the closer unity of all parts of our wide land; for the greater friendship between employers and those who toil; . . . for the brighter day to which we can win through by seeking the help of God in a more unselfish striving for the common bettering of mankind."

That was 77 years ago, and some may find the words a bit quaint today. To most of us, though, they still sound true and good.

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