21 November 2017

Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving Day?

The fourth Thursday of November is just around the corner.

Thoughts of turkey, all of the accompanying sides and pies come to mind. Even if you have no special meal planned, you still look forward to the official vacation from work.

Thanksgiving dessert and coffee

Yet, beyond the chance to have a day of leisure to get together with friends and family, does it hold any deeper meaning for modern Americans?

Even if the history and culture of the holiday fails to appeal, its central thankful theme serves an important purpose.

Psychology Studies show how gratitude brings physical and emotional health benefits.


Things to be Thankful for, then and now

Historians trace Thanksgiving Day back to the celebrations the Pilgrims made in the early 1620s.

They held special church services to commemorate bringing in the harvest and the end of a drought. In previous centuries life and death hinged on the success of the harvest.

A good harvest was a reason for a big celebration. 

Over the next two hundred years, North Americans proclaimed additional Thanksgiving Days with religious and harvest themes.

Although George Washington issued Thanksgiving proclamations, the present national holiday dates from 1863.

In the middle of the Civil War President Lincoln realized the need to make an annual day of giving thanks. He wanted citizens to appreciate all the United States achieved by maintaining its growth and stability during the Civil War.

For the next hundred years or so, few people thought of asking “why do we celebrate Thanksgiving Day.” With wide appeal to citizens of all backgrounds, it became a traditional celebration.

Recent changes in the makeup of American society and attitudes lead some to question this holiday’s message.

Most people now live in urban centers. With a well-stocked supermarket at every street corner, few take an interest in the outcome of the harvest.

Declines in church attendance have undermined the original Thanksgiving Day’s religious motive.

These changes prompt people to question the holiday’s twenty-first century relevance.   

fall themed Thankful

Each individual has things to be thankful for — November 2017

While the lives of Americans have changed in so many ways, human nature remains unaffected.

This day is a precious opportunity to pause and take stock of the more pleasant sides life.

Do you have good health? Have you supportive family and friends? You enjoy good food to eat and have a place you call home? How about those great work colleagues and business clients?

If you have any of these you are much better off than millions of other people. If you doubt what you have to appreciate, visit a hospital emergency ward, a mental health institution, a prison, or any other institution. You will soon feel glad that you are on the outside.


National things to be thankful for

The nation as a whole also has good reasons to continue to connect to this holiday’s theme.

In the early 1960s President Kennedy urged Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” While he was not speaking about this holiday, his words can answer the “why do we celebrate Thanksgiving Day” question.

Free of associations with a particular faith, ethnic group or locality, the day has the power to cut across the country’s natural divisions.

Nobody can deny the deep divisions across the USA today. We acknowledge these differences in religion, politics, and backgrounds but for one day a year we are ready to set them aside and focus on all that unites us.    


Thanksgiving’s positive message

Being thankful is much more than a simple matter of politeness.

When you express appreciation to someone else for a service rendered, both the one who receives the thanks and the one who gives it gain.

From both the individual and national perspectives a day to enjoy with close friends and family is still valuable.


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Hayley is a freelance British writer who specializes in hi-tech, web development and telecom. Born some time in the 60s (full details protected by the Official Secrets Act!). For relaxation enjoys reading Brontes, George Elliot, Elizabeth Gaskell and Arthur Conan Doyle.