When I was small, my public elementary school teachers taught us that the first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated by the Pilgrims to thank God for their survival through the first winter, and also to express appreciation to the local Indians, who had generously helped them, and who were invited to share in the feast. Some things are left out of this account, but so far as it goes, the story is true.
After I had been teaching a number of years, some of my students began telling me that their elementary school teachers taught them that the first Thanksgiving Day was just to give thanks to the Indians. Apparently God didn’t come into it.
Now some of my students tell me that they weren’t taught that either. Their elementary school teachers said Thanksgiving Day is just for “feeling thankful.” Neither God, Indians, nor Pilgrims are in the picture.
Now gratitude, like being in love, is directional; it’s toward someone. You can feel fortunate without having anyone in mind, but to be thankful is to be thankful toward the person to whom thanks are owed. There is no such thing as a generalized feeling of thankfulness to no one in particular, and one can’t owe thanks to “the universe” because the universe is not a person capable of generosity. So to whom were these students supposed to feel thankful?
If what we call our thankfulness isn’t to anyone in particular, then I can think of only two possibilities.
Possibility one: What we are experiencing isn’t truly thankfulness, but only something like delight over good fortune. In this case, I wonder why we even call it thankfulness. Perhaps we should be celebrating a Gee We’ve Been Lucky Day, or, if times have been hard, maybe an It Could Have Been Worse Day. If a shorter name is needed, we could call it Okayness Day. I guess it would be something like Happy Hour.
Possibility two: My attitude really is thankfulness, but I am in denial about its implications. After all, sometimes we fall into denial concerning other directional attitudes, so why not concerning this one? People who are in love sometimes try to convince themselves that they aren’t actually in love; the parallel isn’t perfect, but could it be something like that to be thankful but try to convince ourselves that there is no one to thank?
Well, this ingrate and his family are giving thanks to God this Thanksgiving for all of the wonderful things we don’t deserve, including each other. Anyone care to join us?