A Letter to My Non-American Friends on Thanksgiving


Dear International Friends, We in the US have exported much to you over the years. Everywhere I travel I see American products, hear American music, and can easily find a burger if I'm in the mood. I happen to know that some of you have learned English just by watching American and British movies. Coca-Cola has become one of the top three universal vocabulary words. Even some holidays have begun to be celebrated American style in other countries. (Halloween became a thing in Europe while I was living there.) I'm not always proud of what we send your way. I even find myself wanting to apologize at times on behalf of my people.

But there is one uniquely American holiday I am actually proud of. I'm proud that our country sets aside a day every year simply to be grateful.  Most Americans consider the first Thanksgiving the celebration of the first harvest by the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in the year 1621. Our first President, George Washington, first declared a day of thanksgiving in 1789, but it did not become a national, annual holiday until Abraham Lincoln responded to the pleas of one Sarah Joseph Hale, who for thirty years had been writing to president after president, suggesting a national Thanksgiving Day. Lincoln's successors followed suit each year, but it wasn't until 1941 that Congress, during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, permanently established the fourth Thursday of November as a national day of thanks.

Now the object of that gratitude is up for discussion. The Pilgrims were thanking the God of the Bible. So were Washington and Lincoln. These days it's a little more complicated. Some thank Allah, some thank their lucky stars, or the universe...and some simply aren't sure whom to thank, so they just say they're thankful. Whatever the case, I know I've found myself in the school of gratitude of late. And although my faith in God has been tested at times, I find -- and I'm thankful for this in itself -- that the impulse to thank someone has never left me.

In the words of Andrew Peterson:

Don't you ever wonder why In spite of all that's wrong here There's still so much that goes so right And beauty abounds?

'Cause sometimes when you walk outside The air is full of song here The thunder rolls and the baby sighs And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has comeAnd it warms you like a mother's kissDon't you want to thank someone?Don't you want to thank someone for this?

                 - from "Don't You Want to Thank Someone" from the album Light for the Lost Boy

When I realize the breath in my lungs is on loan to me, when I am surrounded by the family who is everything to me but which I don't deserve, when I remember that I am a recipient of grace upon grace upon grace...I want to thank someone. And I have to believe that Someone is a person, someone higher and greater than myself, someone who alone can not only make sense of this world, but somehow spoke it into existence. And so I thank God.

And if some day this holiday happens to be exported, well, worse things could happen.