People have celebrated the autumn harvest since time immemorial. The American version of this festival has its roots in early colonial times, but became a national holiday by presidential proclamation during the Civil War.
Thus Thanksgiving in the U.S., like most observances in the Judeo-Christian and other traditions, puts us in mind of how tightly our lives are bound both to nature and to history. “Against every wind man has made himself secure”, wrote Sophocles 25 centuries ago in Oedipus at Colonna. Not really. Across the world and here, times of peace yield to seasons of conflict, times of abundance to times of scarcity. We are nowhere completely secure against the ill winds that blow, unpredictably, through our lives.
And so, at Thanksgiving, we endeavor to step out of the relentless forward march, the daily struggle to secure what we have and fend off threats to it. We count our blessings – the material abundance that so many of us enjoy, the love of family and friends – and we confess our sins – principally sloth and pride, taking things for granted and indulging feelings of superiority.
Thanksgiving and repentance, ancient liturgies that allow us to bear up under the shifting winds of nature and history. This Thursday’s feast binds them together in a way that embraces our national community, and also the human family at all times and in all places.