Due to Covid-19, this year will not be our normal celebration of Thanksgiving. I, myself, will spend the day with my brother and sister-in-law. We three older adults will celebrate as best we can, as their children and ten grandchildren will each individually celebrate with their own immediate families on this day of Thanksgiving. But Thanksgiving is not just about family reunions. It also is about giving thanks to God for the blessings of the year that has passed.
What blessings can we count during this year of Covid-19 that has taken up our attention and made our lives so difficult in many ways? Thanksgiving must not just be for what good things we receive. It is also about giving thanks for the strength that we have had in dealing with the trials that come from life as we have come to know it during this pandemic. Speaking to the Thessalonians (5: 16-18), St. Paul says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
Yes, we know that God’s will for us is never inflicting pain or subjecting us to evil. God’s will, however, sometimes enables us to overcome adverse circumstances because God gives us the strength that we need to live in the midst of adversity and to make the sacrifices necessary for the good of all. Certainly, this is the case that we face today during the coronavirus pandemic.
Historically, Thanksgiving can be viewed as more of a holy day than a holiday. I am always impressed by the number of people who do come to Mass on Thanksgiving Day or the vigil, even though it is not a holy day of obligation. Our society has found different ways to celebrate this day, a day where oftentimes faith has been overcome by a focus on football. Still, Thanksgiving always allows a place of prayer before the family meal to thank God for His goodness and the gift of life itself.
When we recall the first Thanksgiving, which has been preserved for us in “A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth,” written by Edward Winslow in 1621, we read that while the 1621 event may not have been called Thanksgiving, the sentiment was certainly present in this historic celebration, which would play a defining role in how the tradition developed over the centuries to come. In celebrating the harvest in 1621, there definitely would have been moments of giving thanks to God.
Mr. Winslow was careful to show how at the first harvest, the Pilgrims invited the Indians to join with them, and that the Indians brought with them five deer, while the Pilgrims were able to hunt for the fowl.
They joined together with what each brought individually and had several days of feasting.
Recently, there have been attempts to debunk the very fact of the first Thanksgiving at the Pilgrim colony. These attempts of the revisionists of history truly have failed. Even if it was not as it has been historically preserved, the time of celebration should have been the very beginning of a national tradition.
We all know that this year our Thanksgiving will not be what we have normally experienced, no parades, perhaps limited football, smaller dinners, and less interaction with our most beloved family members. But we still must give thanks. As we look back over the past year, for what can we give thanks?
First, we give thanks for the gift of life itself, that we have been preserved, and our loved ones too, from experiencing the effects of Covid-19 or even a death from the coronavirus in our family. If we have experienced this virus or the death of a loved one, we give thanks to God for the strength we have mustered to deal with the loss of one dear to us. We give thanks that an effective vaccine is on the horizon. We give thanks that most people have abided by the restrictions imposed during this pandemic, which have protected many of us in this country. We give thanks to NET-TV for televising and assisting parishes in live-streaming daily and Sunday Masses that have kept us spiritually alive during the time of this pandemic. We give thanks that, please God, Covid-19 will not be with us for the next Thanksgiving Day. All of us could easily add to this list of things we should be thankful for, especially during this unimaginable year.
At the same time, we all have much to work on. We want to keep our Catholic schools open. We want to maintain the necessary safety in our Churches with as many people in attendance as possible to bring us safely back to the Eucharist.
As we put out into the deep waters of finding gratitude for what we have in life, we need to think about this year perhaps a little more deeply and understand that we truly can find reasons to give thanks in the midst of this current adverse period. We remember St. Paul’s words to give thanks in all circumstances, especially during this time of COVID-19.