READ TOO much political coverage, and the good times that continue to buoy the American economy can come to seem an abstraction or even a slight inconvenience, as in, "Candidates find few issues to argue about in an era of peace and prosperity." Terms such as "globalization" and "growth" likewise conjure up images of sweeping social change rather than warm hearths and well-stocked holiday tables. But freedom from want is no abstraction. It is an up-close and personal experience, best appreciated by those who engage in the deliberate mental exercise of stepping back, pausing and giving thanks.
That nearly all of us do this on Thanksgiving is partly the gift of President Lincoln. In the anything-but-prosperous days of 1863, he proclaimed a holiday to focus on "these bounties, that are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come." The phrasing suggests an odd truth that has kept the holiday fresh all the years since: Hard as it is to remember to count blessings in the midst of privation, it's amid the roar of prosperity that you really need -- and welcome -- a reminding nudge.
Today millions of Americans will arrive at their holiday tables after struggling through the packed airports, bursting trains and tri-state traffic jams that have become as much a symbol of the holiday as the turkey itself. They will do this in spite of every trend allegedly gaining momentum in the world around them, from the plummeting amount of time families spend together to the supposed rush to substitute e-shopping, e-communication and other electronic activities for the inconvenience of leaving the house.
Prosperity and technology may yet serve up more and more convenience in the business of buying the turkey, cooking the turkey and coordinating the arrival times of relatives. But at the core this holiday will always be less an occasion for contemplating how different we are from that long-ago band of starving, freezing Pilgrims, and more a chance to claim their gratitude as kin to our own.