Thanksgiving then and now

By Matt Clayton - Guest columnist

Thanksgiving Day is upon us, and many are thinking about their favorite part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal with all the usual trimmings or some particular time-honored side dish or desert. For many it will be day of great food, fellowship, and big-city parades and football games on TV along with a little rest and relaxation. For others it means getting ready for “Black Friday” and a ton of enticing bargains when the big sales kick-off at midnight. Admittedly, times have changed and so has the meaning of the holiday, along with how it’s now celebrated. It’s a lot different than it was when I was a kid growing up along a little township road in western Logan County in the 1960s. Back then, Black Friday and buying a bunch of stuff we didn’t need was not in the equation, being thankful for what we did have, was. Memories of the challenging effects of “Black Tuesday” in 1929 lingered in the minds of most adults, and a heart of thanksgiving seemed much more prevalent back then than it is today.

While a nice meal is still one of the highlights of the day, years ago the acknowledged theme of the holiday was giving thanks or being thankful for the multitude of things we were privileged to have and enjoy. Things like living in the best country on the planet, good health, having a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs/shoes on our feet, and plenty to eat. Even in grade school we were taught to be thankful for the things we had and the way we lived and at least one teacher I had made sure we understood the depth of despair that gripped those who started the Thanksgiving tradition and had traveled to a new world looking for religious freedom and a better life. Sadly for many, Thanksgiving Day has become “turkey-day” with little or no reverence for the original meaning of the holiday. Admittedly, most of us really are thankful when we get right down to it, however, we older folks should take a few minutes to inform the youngsters about how important it is to be grateful for all we have.

As the years have increased, so has my love for Thanksgiving Day. Wisdom crept in and a lot of experience has taught me just how thankful I should be; I also figured out why it was my father’s favorite holiday. As a kid, I remember the older friends and family members like my Dad wiping tears from their eyes after a heart-felt prayer before we enjoyed our Thanksgiving meal at Grandpa and Grandma Clayton’s house; I never forgot those tears and why they were there.

Things like recollections of growing up penniless in the Great Depression, or the effects of WWII and the Korean War had left their marks and memories of what it was like “to do without” were often repeated when adults talked about how hard the “good old days” really were. Those trials made the survivors of earlier times more appreciative of the situation at hand and though I did not live it, I knew enough to understand what they were talking about.

To this day when thoughts of Thanksgiving Day come to mind, I envision a pin-up card-board poster of sorts that my elementary teacher put on the front of her desk depicting Pilgrims with their heads bowed, sitting around a long table adorned with wild game and an assortment of pumpkins, ears of corn, squash, and a cornucopia of other things they gathered from the woods and field. No doubt I’ll take that vision to my grave, and thankfully so.

To truly understand and make the most of this Thanksgiving Day, we need to get back to the basics. Let’s take a look at what the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language says in part about the day: “A public celebration of divine goodness; also, a day set apart to acknowledge the goodness of God, either in any remarkable deliverance from calamities or danger, or in the ordinary dispensation of his bounties.” The common ground in the above definition is expressing gratitude for a favor; or making acknowledgments to God for kindness bestowed, and without God, there can be no real Thanksgiving, at least not in my book. Being thankful requires someone with a desire to express gratitude and someone else to receive that expression. God has set an example for us to follow; and so it goes.

You know, it usually takes a tragic situation or feeling of hopelessness to bring most of us back to the basics concerning thanksgiving. Only when the chips are down do we remember how good we had it before the onset of trouble and how thankful we should be for all those things we take for granted. Consider an average day before and after 911. Before those buildings came down, we were a lot less concerned with homeland security than afterward, and afterward we were all pretty thankful that incident was not typical here like it is in many war-torn countries elsewhere.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to be a little more thankful this Thanksgiving Day, and I plan to share the cost of our freedom and how blessed we are with some of the youngsters in my family. If we don’t take the time to teach our children to be thankful, who will?

By Matt Clayton

Guest columnist