Editorial: Thanksgiving remains an opportunity for all of us to look inward and outward at our blessings - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Thanksgiving remains an opportunity for all of us to look inward and outward at our blessings

Thanksgiving can be viewed as the holiday of respite — a vacation from your problems, so to speak.

It is an unusually introspective holiday in that those celebrating are asked to look inward and recognize the things that have gone right in the past year — the unexpected blessings, the people who have made the world a better place, the very existence of people who love you and whom you can love.

It has religious roots that have for many gone a secular direction — you don’t have to believe in a god to celebrate Thanksgiving — but it has resisted becoming a largely commercial holiday like Valentine’s Day or Christmas, for instance. While for many it kicks off the Christmas shopping season, the day itself is still best known for family gatherings.

True, sports have taken a bite out of the contemplative nature of Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving was not originally celebrated a single day in a year. New England colonists might have celebrated days of “thanksgiving” several times a year when the need was felt to thank God for a particular blessing, including a good harvest.

Even today, though our national holiday looks back at a particular harvest festival in 1621 celebrated by English Pilgrim colonists and the Wampanoag people who already inhabited the Plymouth, Massachusetts, area, many New Mexicans also look back decades earlier, to a thanksgiving feast celebrated in July 1598 by Spanish colonists who had successfully crossed the turbulent waters of the Rio Grande near El Paso after a perilous journey through the desert lands of what is now northern Mexico. They would finally settle north of Española near Ohkay Owingeh later that year. It is likely that the people already there had their own feasts of thanksgiving over the years.

The colonists’ celebration, as recorded by colonist Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, was similar to the one at Plymouth in that it involved worship, feasting, theater and even some sporting events — shooting for the Pilgrims and horse racing for the soon-to-be New Mexicans. Hmm, maybe spending the day overeating and watching football is not far off from the original celebrations.

In 1789, President George Washington proclaimed a period of thanksgiving for “the Almighty’s care of Americans prior to the Revolution, assistance to them in achieving independence, and help in establishing the constitutional government.”

But political and cultural differences between Americans even then — with Southerners unwilling to celebrate a New England custom and other Americans rejecting the government’s involvement in a religious observance — prevented it from taking hold.

As divisions grew intense enough to lead toward civil war, Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of a women’s magazine, led a movement for a day of thanksgiving in an effort to promote national unity.

In 1863, as the nation had fallen into the middle of a bitter and destructive Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed such a holiday, which was celebrated on Nov. 26. That led to what is now the national holiday we celebrate each year the fourth Thursday of November.

While we remain a nation divided on many fronts, this Day of Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to look inward, recognize the good that does exist and be thankful in the way that best suits you.

We hope you have a happy Thanksgiving.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.


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