Giving thanks. That’s what Thanksgiving is. It is a time set aside to give thanks to God for His bounty.
The Pilgrims knew this. Rev. Robert Hunt knew this. Abraham knew this. David knew this. A Samaritan leper knew this. It is not a secret. Thanking God is as natural as a stream overflowing its banks during heavy rain. He pours and pours His blessings into us until there is no longer room to contain them. So we explode in joyful thanksgiving, letting it spill over to family and friends.
The true first American Thanksgiving took place in 1619 in the Virginia Colony at Berkeley Hundred near my birthplace in Williamsburg. Maybe that’s why I have such a special attachment to the holiday. I grew up with a sense of history. I also grew up with a knowledge of God — without really knowing Him.
Thanksgiving wasn’t just the amazing food or family or football. It was more than that. It was the sacredness of the day — a time to acknowledge how little we are and how big God is and how grateful we are to Him for every breath. I saw people praying and thanking God on that day that never even gave Him a nod the rest of the year. They just couldn’t help themselves.
My mother’s sage dressing was the best! I could eat it until I was just on the brink of being stuffed myself, but I always left room for the cranberry sauce, Parker House rolls and pie. When I grew up, I started my own Thanksgiving traditions, including an expanded menu. My mother and father drove from Virginia to celebrate with us.
One year as I was chopping and pounding and stirring away, I stopped briefly to ask my mother if there was anything she would like to do. She didn’t even have to take time to think about it. “No, I waited on you all those years. I’m content to just sit here and watch you work.”
And work I did. And I made the kids work, too. Their favorite thing was to whip the cream cheese into shape, stir in sliced olives, and spread it on the celery. As they got older, less and less made it to the plate.
I ran across some Thanksgiving menus recently. Here’s a sampling of what I liked to serve: Turkey, gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, green beans, candied yams, cranberry sauce, congealed cranberry salad with cream cheese and roasted peanut topping, stuffed celery, carrot sticks, assorted pickles and relishes, spiced apple rings, homemade cheese bread, apple pie with extra sharp cheddar cheese, and pumpkin or sweet potato pie with whipped topping.
The running joke in our family, and I must admit that my annual forgetfulness never failed … thus perpetuating the joke, was the candied yams. I carefully prepared them, baked them to perfection and then placed the marshmallows on top for a quick run under the broiler. I would forget, leave them in too long, pull the flaming mass out of the oven, scrape off the top layer, replace them with fresh marshmallows, set the timer, put them back under the broiler. Voila! Perfect every (second) time! Year after year.
Year after year I cooked myself into a frenzy. Afterwards I looked like a self-sacrifice – fingernails chopped off with the celery and onions, burns on hands and forearms, bruises from carrying heavy pots. But I felt marvelous!
Sometimes it was just family, or family and friends. When I came into the church, it was family and church family and anybody else who wanted to come. My reputation grew. I usually served lunch between noon and 2:00 pm, but people would drop by late afternoon, suppertime and even later. We would drag it all out again, reheat it and serve it up. The children and I really enjoyed entertaining.
One time my two younger children dressed up as Pilgrim and Indian Princess to perform an original Thanksgiving play for us. One time after our meal, we packed up all the food and transported it across town to share it again with the “Great Aunts,” who were homebound. The pleasure of spending time with the children and consuming a feast gave them lasting memories.
One time we did not have enough money to purchase the Thanksgiving meal. I had been working with a family from my church to place meals in the homes of those less fortunate. The husband worked for a company who supplied turkeys and trimmings. They had given away all the boxes except one, and my list had been exhausted.
“Can’t you think of anyone?” he asked. “Surely someone has a need.”
In obedience to the voice of God urging me, I hesitantly responded, “I have a need.” “I knew it!” he exclaimed. “We’ll come over tonight.”
And they did. He and his wife supplemented the company’s offering and brought us everything from butter and milk to Parker House rolls and everything else we needed for a glorious meal! We were really thankful to God that year!
When I was in junior high school our principal called us to the auditorium for a reading of the first presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation made by George Washington in 1789. It cemented in my mind that even the president was subject to God, and willingly submitted himself to God’s sovereignty, and wanted the whole country to observe a day of thanksgiving.
I had experienced a similar thing a few years before. When I started school, we memorized the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. A year later we had to re-memorize it and add the words “under God.” Our government officials wanted everyone to know that God was undergirding our country.
Another memorable Thanksgiving Day began with the usual madness and mayhem. I had been cheffing for 3 days and was up ‘way early to throw the bird in the oven and tend to all the other dishes in the works. We were expecting several special guests, so I was paying particular attention to the way we were dressed and groomed. I wanted everything to be just so.
Flitting around in my best dress, hair and make-up perfect, I was queen of all I surveyed. The place settings were set. The children had made name cards for each person. Just lovely! That’s when my daughter announced, “Mom, my head really itches.”
“What’s wrong? Let me see.”
I parted her beautiful, long hair and peered at the scalp. Ew! There were bugs crawling all over her head. What in the world was that?
I remember when I was twelve or thirteen. My grandmother asked me about my teachers at school. “How do you like your teachers this year?”
“Well,” I answered, “mostly they’re OK, but this one woman is lousy!”
“Oh, no!,” Granny exclaimed, placing her hand over her mouth trying to hide the shock of what I had just said. “You mean she has lice?!?”
With the same amount of shock I realized my daughter had lice. I put in a call to the pediatrician. Doctors love to get calls on Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays. It has always been my practice to oblige them as much as I can.
They called in a prescription to the 24-hour pharmacy and told me that I could give her vinegar shampoos in the meantime to start getting rid of the worst offenders. So that’s what we did.
Minutes later our first guest arrived. He was a really good friend, so I didn’t hesitate to ask him to drive to the pharmacy to pick up the shampoo. He laughed, shared his story from elementary school of when he had lice. After his head was shaved and treated with a black, tarry substance, his mother covered it with a knitted cap, which remained there for weeks.
“Oh, joy,” I thought, “will I have to shave her head?”
I decided to wait until after the meal to use the medicated shampoo, so we sat and ate – sharing lousy stories — with my daughter sitting there scratching a bit and smelling like a tossed salad. This did not even remotely resemble Norman Rockwell’s picture. Later we became aware that as one of God’s creatures, the louse does have its place.
Corrie Ten Boom recounts her own lice story in her book, The Hiding Place. During World War II when she and her sister were in a concentration camp, they were confronted with lice among the imprisoned. At her sister’s insistence, they thanked God for the lice, Corrie complying grudgingly. As it turned out, because of the lice the guards did not go into the place where Corrie and her sister conducted Bible study. The word of God went forth unhindered in that dark pit of wretchedness. Hope was born in the hearts of the hearers.
The Rev. Robert Hunt arrived in 1607 with the settlers of the first permanent English settlement in America. Before they reached their final destination at what was to become Jamestown, the ship and crew came to rest at a place they called Cape Henry in Virginia.
After spending three days on the ship consecrating their hearts and lives to Christ, Rev. Hunt led the group to the shore where he planted a seven-foot wooden cross in the sand. He knelt on the beach and worshiped God, claiming the land for the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Understanding the full import of the journey, he wanted their first act in this new land to be one of giving thanks to God.
An American tradition, a biblical directive, a joy and a pleasure … Happy Thanksgiving!
“You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance” — Psalm 65:9-11