Thanksgiving is America's best holiday. The idea of a national festival to count our blessings resonates with everyone, young or old, rich or poor, weak or strong.
But as anyone hosting a Thanksgiving celebration knows, a thankful heart doesn't necessarily guarantee a tranquil dinner. That's especially true this year, since the holiday falls only two weeks after contentious national elections.
Fear not. It's all part of the tradition.
From the very first Thanksgiving dinner in the days of the Pilgrims, Americans have fought over the holiday itself and everything surrounding it. In fact, one of our greatest blessings on this Thanksgiving is the knowledge that we've been through contentious times before, fought over countless political issues big and small -- and not only lived through it as a country, but thrived.
Our Founding Fathers had fundamental disagreements over nearly every issue brought before them, including Thanksgiving.
When George Washington proclaimed Nov. 26, 1789, a national day of Thanksgiving, Thomas Jefferson said he found the idea "silly. It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard." History does not record Washington's guest list for his Thanksgiving celebration that year, but we're betting it didn't include Jefferson.
Benjamin Franklin waged his own personal Thanksgiving battle on a different front. Writing with his characteristic wit and insight, he wanted to make the turkey our national bird.
The eagle, Franklin wrote in 1784, "is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. He watches the labor of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him, and takes it from him.
"The turkey, though a little vain and silly, is a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on."
That's another dollop of guilt for Thanksgiving, on top of all the calories.
It was Abraham Lincoln who officially declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. But almost a century later, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, members of Congress and several governors were still arguing over which day in November to celebrate it.
Roosevelt sided with businessmen who, in 1939, wanted to move Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November so there would be an additional week of Christmas shopping. But 16 states were appalled and refused. For three years, different parts of the nation celebrated Thanksgiving on two different dates. Finally, in 1941 Congress, after heated debate, officially made the fourth Thursday in November the legal holiday.
We find Roosevelt's 1941 Thanksgiving proclamation particularly appropriate today:
"On this day ... let us reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God and, in giving thanks, let us pray for a speedy end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time."
Amen. And here's to a peaceful, thankful Thanksgiving dinner for all.