November 25, 2010


Isn't Thanksgiving a turkey?: The purpose, the timing and the food at Thanksgiving are all mystifying this side of the Atlantic. What is it all about? (Tim Hayward, 26 November 2009, The Guardian)

Perhaps the most baffling part of Thanksgiving for a Brit is the whole idea of having a festival as big, complicated and frankly bloody tiresome to organise as Christmas a mere month before the big day. I'm not sure if that can ever be adequately explained. If we really have to travel across the country to spend days of bilious excess and bitter recrimination with our families, surely once a year is more than enough - and there should be presents.

In fact, it seems that Thanksgiving has gained a momentum which outstrips logic and history and is today entirely secular holiday - barring the occasional well-intentioned grace. A generalised and random giving of thanks for pretty much everything. An idea which actually rather appeals.

So, transatlantic chums. We wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings but please, help us out here, take a moment to explain to us benighted Brits what it's all about, how the food works, what you're doing to celebrate and how anyone can eat turkey twice in a month.

One of the chief American peculiarities is our unique sense of our own history and historical mission. This may be partly a function of the fact that we are a new enough country that our history can be pretty easily apprehended, but it is also a matter of the unchanged nature of the mission. Why do we give Thanks--to God and the Pilgrims? Because the experiment they initiated is working.

When we look to the Mayflower Compact we find our forefathers engaged in an exercise that we still partake of 400 years later, they, "in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience." Their covenant is our covenant; we've just formalized it a bit.

Abraham Lincoln captured the degree to which we were in the midst of their experiment in his Gettysburg Address:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Little wonder that it is he who is moist closely associated with the regular national observance of Thanksgiving Day. No one better understood our debt to God for help in preserving the republic nor our debt to the original Americans for originating government by the people.

Consider too Ronald Reagan's Farewell Address, in which he, appropriately, returned to one of his favorite images, John Winthrop's "city on a hill," but also suggested that he had basically been fulfilling a charge handed down to us:

The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the "shining city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stand the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after two hundred years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

And not just the endurance of the task but the eternality of the pilgrims, who when they come here come home.

And, typically, no one ever better conveyed the resonance of history, the reasons we are thankful and the American indebtedness to Go better than W, at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance after 9-11:

America is a nation full of good fortune, with so much to be grateful for, but we are not spared from suffering. In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America because we are freedom's home and defender, and the commitment of our Fathers is now the calling of our time.

On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask Almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.

As we've been assured, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth can separate us from God's love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country.

God bless America.

What other people would recognize themselves as blessed in the midst of such tragedy? And how typical of a people so enmeshed in history and cognizant of the debt to fathers, founders and father that the response to that tragedy produced no deviation from the experiment.

Contra Mr. Hayward, Thanksgiving in America is every bit as much a religious holiday as Christmas or Easter. Nor has it outstripped history. Instead it is drenched in History. Granted, logic has nothing to do with it, nor has America ever had aught to do with logic.

So what are we thankful for this year?

We are thankful to those Americans who organized our country around a simple set of ideas, that:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed./blockquote>
And to God, upon Whom those ideas depend.

We are thankful to fellow citizens who live lives informed by those ideas every day, placing liberty and human dignity at the center of American life. And to the armed services who defend the country and extend these ideas abroad.

We are thankful to our readers, who make Brothers Judd an enjoyable community, our own little republican experiment.

We are thankful to our families and friends for their love and support.

We are thankful for a uniquely American occasion on which we are reminded to give thanks for the absurdly generous bounty that we enjoy.

God bless America and may He bless you all today and every day.

[originally posted: 11/26/09]

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Posted by at November 25, 2010 12:00 AM
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