I sit in the dark pre-dawn hour on Thanksgiving Day. No turkey in the oven, kids and wife are asleep. We will, as many families, be traveling to Nana’s house today for the turkey-day repast, followed by food coma football. Being the cook in our house, I made a pumpkin cheesecake for dessert and a side dish of roasted root vegetables. They are supplying the smoked turkey and dressing and all the other fixings. It will be a glorious day.
Our trip to Nana’s will be short by comparison—she lives less than 2 miles away. Many families have much further to travel, and some left days ago for their remote destinations, driving on crowded highways, or flying the sardine-can skies. I am thankful that our day will be relatively peaceful, with the laugh of our happy boys around the house, and the comforting smells of cinnamon, sage, and yeast rolls wafting out Nana’s front door.
I am thankful that I don’t have to work today.
Many families are waking up with one parent gone. Doctors have to make rounds. ICU nurses will have their Thanksgiving meal in the unit. Hotels have to be cleaned, and guests checked in and out as they travel to see their own families. Restaurants have to be made ready, the Thanksgiving feast prepared for full tables of people whose tradition is to get out of the kitchen. Someone has to respond to the car with a flat tire on the interstate; a mom driving her babies to see their grandparents in the breakdown lane. Firefighters have their turkey in the oven, hoping they will be able to eat it together, but wishing they could share Thanksgiving with their home families, instead of their firehouse family. The alarm klaxon is always looming overhead, a silent menace to the peace of a Thanksgiving meal. Military members overseas are thankful for the Internet, if they have it, so they can Skype or FaceTime with home. Some are in the field, and the only turkey they’ll see is in a mylar bag labeled MRE.
Police officers have to go out and fight crime today, but they wish criminals would take the day off and give them a break. Prison guards have their turkey day meal with their wards instead of their kids. Finally, the newest group of Thanksgiving workers are headed to their locked glass and steel cages to make ready for the ever-earlier Christmas sales. Some stores are opening as early as 6am Thanksgiving day (I could head to Kmart right now and start shopping). Some of these retail workers are grateful for the hours—they need the money. Some are incensed that they are on the schedule for a day they’d rather be home. Some other retail workers who don’t have to work are shopping today, knowing that tomorrow will be the longest day of the year for them—let someone else serve them for once.
I am thankful that I am not shopping today.
One of our morning traditions on Thanksgiving day is to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. The bands, the floats, and the huge inflatable Snoopy, capped off by the excitement of Santa’s sleigh puts us in the Thanksgiving mood. It’s what Americans do. We thrive on the familiar, those sights, sounds, smells and tastes that take us back to our younger days when Thanksgiving was a day to see family members who make their appearance once a year at Grandma’s table. Everyone has their favorite relative, favorite cousin, favorite uncle or aunt, and the one relative who they dread seeing.
I am thankful that I am an American.
I live in one of the most blessed societies in the history of the world. I am one of the richest people in the world; compared to everyone outside of the USA, all of us are rich. I am free to worship as I like, vote as I like, work where I like, and live anywhere in our land. These freedoms are taken for granted, but they are not how much of the rest of the world lives.
I am thankful that I am blessed.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started in 1924, with Felix the Cat as one of its signature inflatable balloons. Characters like Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, and Spongebob have made the journey, currently from 77th Street and Central Park West, down 6th Avenue to Herald Square for 90 years (the route has changed over the years). It’s an American tradition transcending age or sports teams. You can hate the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Rangers, and Knicks (okay, I hate them, all of them), but you have to love New York for its parade. But New York didn’t invent the Thanksgiving Day parade. It’s not even the oldest Thanksgiving Day parade in America. That honor belongs to Philadelphia, whose parade was started in 1920 by Gimbels Department Store.
Gimbals, sworn retail enemy of Macy’s, went out of business in 1986, but the parade continues on, now known as the 6ABC Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade. Because nothing says Thanksgiving like a dozen donuts. I prefer the Macy’s parade. But there’s an even earlier Thanksgiving Day parade. Way earlier.
Around 445 B.C., a Persian government official named Nehemiah, an Israelite, was named governor of Jerusalem by King Artaxerxes. He traveled from the Persian capital of Susa to Jerusalem, accompanied by Persian cavalry units and a letter from the king. His job was to repair the walls around Jerusalem, which had fallen into disrepair., and help restore the city to its former grandeur. Nehemiah rallied the people and got the job done.
At the dedication of the new wall, Nehemiah planned a thanksgiving celebration. He appointed two large choirs. In Nehemiah’s words:
31 So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate. 32 After them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, 33 and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 and some of the priests’ sons with trumpets—Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, 36 and his brethren, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. Ezra the scribe went before them. 37 By the Fountain Gate, in front of them, they went up the stairs of the City of David, on the stairway of the wall, beyond the house of David, as far as the Water Gate eastward.
38 The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall, going past the Tower of the Ovens as far as the Broad Wall, 39 and above the Gate of Ephraim, above the Old Gate, above the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel, the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped by the Gate of the Prison.
40 So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me; 41 and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Minjamin,[j] Michaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; 42 also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. The singers sang loudly with Jezrahiah the director.
43 Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.
The first Thanksgiving day parade was held in Jerusalem. The routes were to the right toward the Refuse Gate, by the Fountain Gate, then up the stairs of the City of David, toward the east to the Water Gate; and to the left, past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, around the city to the Gate of the Prison. Both choirs met at the House of God and sang loud praises to the Lord. Really loud, because you could hear it resound in the hilltops around the city.
As we Americans celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday, let us do it with joy and singing. Let our joy flow out so the whole world hears it. We are blessed in America, and although our walls are weathered and in need of fresh paint and maintenance, they stand tall and proud. Our walls are not made of brick or stone, but of a society built on charity, love, and devotion to God, freedom and family.
I am thankful for the foundations of America.
Today, whether you agree with everyone around the National Table of Thanksgiving about religion, politics, sports, or anything else, put down your divisions and join together as Americans and give thanks for your many blessings. As you give thanks, think about those who can’t join their families today, and those who can’t afford a feast. Jesus said “Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Treat your fellow Americans with kindness, charity and love. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, visit the lonely in a nursing home. Bring goodies to your local fire department. Walk up to a police cruiser, and offer them a turkey sandwich (please, no donuts).
Gather with your family and don’t think too hard about paying the Christmas credit card bills, or getting that 50% discount on the exact gift you want. Be thankful, just because you have joy.
Snoopy will thank you for it.