Without question, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
It is my favorite because it may be our only holiday that does not require a victim for our commemoration -- no one is conquered, no one subjugated, and no one is assassinated. Thanksgiving is a holiday that is free of violence.
In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation that America celebrated its first Day of Thanksgiving to God under its new Constitution. The original proclamation announced that the first Thursday in November would become its regular day for giving thanks.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of November as a national Day of Thanksgiving. It is not lost on history the first Thanksgiving holiday setting aside the last Thursday came just two weeks after Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address.
In 1941, Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.
Beyond the food, family, and football, Thanksgiving is a great day to reflect on those things that we are truly thankful. That is especially important given where the country finds itself economically, politically, and to some degree socially.
America is confronted with crisis domestically as well as internationally. The fragile nature of the economy is such that what is being touted, as positive economic news would otherwise be viewed as dreadful under normal conditions.
Since December 2007 unemployment in California has increased from 5.7% to the current 12.5%. This includes Imperial County, which is hovering near 30% unemployment.
The good news, since September the increase in the growth of the state's unemployment has slowed 12.3%-12.5%.
This is sure to put a damper on Black Friday, which is the day after Thanksgiving. The term "Black Friday" is in reference to the heavy retail traffic on that day.
Black Friday refers to the beginning of the holiday shopping season, in which retailers go from being in the red (i.e., a loss on the books) to being in the black (i.e., turning a profit).
But this year, there are strong economic indicators that Black Friday will be Red Friday as will the remainder of the holiday shopping season. The motivation to max out one's credit card this year will not be as prevalent as in year's past.
As the annual mundane and elementary arguments about the use of Christmas commence, does the use of Christmas by our public institutions violate the notion of separation of church and state?
The real issue is the consumer spending during the holiday/Christmas shopping season, which is a vital cog on the country's economic engine, will in all likelihood not be present this year with the same gusto.
There will undoubtedly be those who will rise before day break on Black Friday, bowing at the alter of consumerism, arriving at an ungodly hour, ignoring the humanity of others, some may even engage in fisticuffs, in order to allegedly save a few dollars.
This is a clear departure from what Washington had in mind when he issued that initial proclamation in 1789. But at the other end of the spectrum are those individuals for myriad reasons welcome the holiday season with trepidation.
Not everyone will see Thanksgiving through the lens of a Norman Rockwell painting. For some Thanksgiving kicks off the season for which the pain that they live with daily will intensify.
But the origins of Thanksgiving as a holiday along with the changes made by Lincoln in particular draw on very important lessons for us going forward. Those presidential reminders to give thanks did not come when America was at its best -- quite the contrary.
In 1789, America was a fledgling state not certain of its survival. In 1863 it was at war against itself with its long-term prospects again uncertain.
Our challenge today, is not unlike the challenges faced by Washington and Lincoln -- to set aside a day of thanksgiving in spite for many are challenging and unsettling times.
Thanksgiving must be more than our customary rituals; it must be a day where we take inventory to realize the reasons we have to be thankful--not problem free, just thankful. We are then further challenged to remind ourselves of those reasons at least once before the fourth Thursday in November 2010.