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Thanksgiving: America's true national holiday

Published: Monday, November 19, 2007

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Calendar holidays - they enter into our schedules with such inevitability that we often don't think of their fluidity. During our college years, it is especially Thanksgiving Day that becomes a bit more multidimensional. We appreciate the day's emphasis on tradition, and as we get older, our role in this tradition changes.

Pilgrim hats, Indian feathers, and potluck classroom celebrations were the stuff of childhood; waving back to Santa as he signaled the end of the Macy's Day Parade and the beginning of the season; setting the silverware on the left and the right of the nice dishes.

We all have a personal montage of experiences.

Our homes have changed since then, and many will observe these differences upon returning home this week. Such is the dynamism of life.

Others are staying in Chestnut Hill, either to welcome visitors or to share in a new tradition with roommates and friends. For a short time, all of us will shed our student identities and fall back into our household roles. Simultaneously, we will become part of a greater tradition, rooted in our nation's history.

In 1789, George Washington proclaimed a day of thanksgiving on the recommendation of Congress. It was to be a day on which Americans united, not only to demonstrate their solemn gratitude to God, but also to "beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually." In giving thanks, we acknowledge what is important to us in our lives. We also begin to come to terms with what we can do better or in what we have failed.

On Thanksgiving we come together, as Abraham Lincoln had intended in 1863 when he declared it to be a national holiday. Days of thanksgiving had been observed by presidents sporadically through history, but it was the stress of a fractured country that Lincoln sought to remedy in his proclamation. Despite the dark time of civil war, there were still thanks to be given.

Thanksgiving just may be our true national holiday, one where our celebrations are not just patriotic, but humble, sending a message more stirring than the fireworks that light a July sky.

Independence Day, the commemoration of the signing of our Declaration, for too long stood in our history as an example of a country's mixed-up agenda; freedom and democracy were not extended to everyone.

Likewise, we've learned a thing or two since our grammar-school days about those utopian images of Pilgrims and Indians sitting together at the table. There was much more to the innocent story.

With all this in mind, no matter how we've arrived at these conclusions, Thursday is more than politics. It is more than a time for television spots featuring politicians and troops serving one another, or presidential candidates expounding the ideals of the day.

It's a day to recognize where we are in our lives (and how lucky we are to have family members remind us of that with their questions about our progress in school and post-graduation plans).

Take the Thanksgiving challenge. Don't remain introspective in your reflection. Act. As your writing professors have reminded you, "Show, don't tell." The first step is to express thanks. The next step is to show your thanks. They say that on St. Patrick's Day, everyone's Irish.

It would be nice to say that everyone gives thanks on Thanksgiving Day. It's a little more hard to tell - in this case, it's not a contest to see who wears the most green.

Start with a "thank you" to your professor, to your roommates, to your parents. Then, get creative. Spread the hearts. Christmas is still weeks away, but it's never too early to start giving.

Katherine Cannella is a Heights senior staff columnist. She welcomes comments at

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