Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Makes Us Exceptional: Relevant Traditions


Happy Thanksgiving!

Many people are having a hard time this year, and it is precisely out of difficult circumstances that the original day of Thanksgiving began. There are many myths surrounding the tradition, and I'm not speaking of 1621, but rather 1777, when the first designated day for Thanksgiving began, during the Revolutionary War. Things were also bleak at that time, and the revolutionaries had been dealt several crushing defeats. It was in John Adams words, "chilling, on every Side: Gloomy, dark, melancholy, and dispiriting." Sound familiar?

But, as writer Ira Stoll recounts in the Wall Street Journal, the Battle of Saratoga cheered the fledgling nation with a critical victory, and Samuel Adams called for "a day of Thanksgiving" to God, so that "with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor." (Yes, people he did more than bequeath us a good beer!)These days of Thanksgiving were called for periodically through the years, and finally fixed as we know it in 1941. The tradition has morphed over time, but it is at its core an expression of gratitude for the unique "experiment" of the United States, and the values of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," blessed by God, even in difficult circumstances.

One of the best Thanksgiving stories I read this year came from The Christian Science Monitor which featured an article by Joy Neal Kidney who told the story of a Bosnian immigrant family that her family has befriended over the years and has come to spend Thanksgivings with. The Thanksgiving traditions of family and food are made fresh and poignant through the eyes of a sixth grade girl who has made the meal her own. Columnist Tom Purcell also wrote a good piece about the strength of traditions, and how difficult times can be a positive reminder about what is truly important.

Last weekend we lent our family's hands to a grassroots cause a friend of mine organizes each year to put together baskets of Thanksgiving fixings for families in need, as well as bags of provisions for the homeless. As three hundred people took up their places for our "basket brigade," I was reminded that this is the strength of our nation, people helping people. It was nice to see our President elect mirroring this spirit, by bringing his family to feed those in need, and taking some time, despite ruffled secret service personnel, to spend some impromptu time with some very excited school children.

It can't be denied however that it takes alot of work to pull off the traditional Thanksgiving festivities, and can be a source of stress. An interesting article in The New York Times presents a very businesslike strategy to manage the event in and very "C.E.O." manner. With strategies from Dr. Amy Edmondson (no relation that I'm aware of), the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, and Stewart Friedman, a management professor at the Wharton School and an author, you to can take a page from the most successful leaders to plan, delegate and develop your family for highly effective festivities for years to come.

And for some fun stuff. President Bush pardoned two turkeys, "Pumpkin" and "Pecan." But where do they go? The Associated Press answers that question, where else but Disneyland! And looking for the best Thanksgiving videos on the web? Check out this list.

Back to a somber note, as I write this, the news is breaking about the terrible and heinous coordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India that apparently targeted westerners and is continuing to unfold. Our prayers go out to those families in pain or peril, and serves as a reminder of the fragile blessings we possess. Even if you may not always get along with your families or your neighbors, hold them close and give heartfelt mindful thanks.

May we also remember Samuel Adams call that we pray to God this Thanksgiving that he "would graciously be pleased to put an end to all Tyranny and Usurpation, that the People who are under the Yoke of Oppression, may be made free; and that the Nations who are contending for freedom may still be secured by His Almighty Aid."

May you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving! And thanks for reading Relevant Mom.


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