Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen And Heard (November 25, 2010)

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published November 25, 2010  | En Español

According to a commonly held national tradition, the first Thanksgiving observance was accomplished as a multicultural feast—the newly arrived settlers and the Native Americans shared a common meal to signify their gratitude for having survived a harsh winter and in thanks for the plentiful harvest. We all enjoy believing that this first shared meal brought people from diverse backgrounds together in friendship and peaceful harmony.

Unfortunately, we do not currently possess any clear written documents to verify our traditions, which have only increased over the decades and now include the very festive and elaborate meal that we will share with our families and friends this week. There is something stirring and encouraging about this established feast, no matter what its exact origins might have been.

The genesis of our Thanksgiving Day observance is also a reminder of the rich legacy of our country that includes the association of peoples from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Perhaps many of our children recently participated in Thanksgiving Day pageants at their schools and were dressed in the garb of what we might believe would have been the attire of those who first may have shared a Thanksgiving dinner. Here again, there is a reminder of the cultural diversity that dates from the beginnings of this celebration.

While the first Thanksgiving Day occurred more than 150 years before the formal establishment of our nation and while many other countries in the world now celebrate a day of thanksgiving as a part of their gratitude for a bountiful harvest, Thanksgiving Day is a distinctly American holiday, one that reminds us of the principles that laid the foundation for our nation.

We are a people uniquely assembled from the immigrants and native residents of many different cultures, races, languages and religions. When we are at our best, we bring those differences together in harmony and in joy. Just as the Native Americans joined the newly arrived settlers for that first Thanksgiving Day in a spirit of gratitude and hospitality, our nation holds as a sacred heritage its traditions of welcome and collaboration with all those who share this wondrous land.

We also know that we have not always lived up to the standards of that legacy of welcome and inclusion. The Native Americans who inhabited this land before any settlers arrived as history sadly attests were not always treated with respect, fairness and genuine kindheartedness. Not all of the newly arriving settlers in our history were welcomed or allowed to bring their languages and cultures into the fabric of our nation. Some of those who arrived on these shores did so in chains.

Yet in spite of the many failures, there have been a great many achievements as well that we all can claim, and therefore Thanksgiving Day remains a great and important reminder to us all of who we are called to be as neighbors, friends and fellow citizens and to live together in harmony as did the characters who were portrayed in our children’s school pageants.

While Thanksgiving Day is purely a secular holiday, it has decidedly religious undertones and themes. God has blessed our land with an abundance of gifts; the greatest of these gifts are always the people who call this nation their common home. We have additional riches far exceeding those of other people. We have become a nation that is the envy of most other people. We have the possibility of making important contributions to the lives of people the world over. We enjoy religious freedom to not only worship as we so choose, but the freedom to engage in the important issues of our society according to our own religious and moral beliefs.

As Catholics we should not shy away from being actively involved in shaping a better world for everyone—from those within the womb waiting to be born, to those who are poor, imprisoned, sick or elderly. For we should remember that the first Thanksgiving was a feast that welcomed the newcomer and the stranger, the native-born and the current resident to a common table of thanks.

For all of these blessings, we must say thanks and offer praise to the Creator God who bestowed them so generously upon us all. Happy Thanksgiving my dear brothers and sisters of the Archdiocese of Atlanta!