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This year, let us truly give thanks
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D. Barbara McWhite grew up in York County, S.C., and lives in Orange Park, Fla., with her husband and cat. Her column is published here each Tuesday. Opinions expressed are solely her own.

The Thanksgiving holiday is drawing near, and across the country people are dragging home burgeoning bags of groceries containing similar items…turkeys, sweet potatoes, greens, macaroni, green beans…

We Americans are creatures of habit, and Thanksgiving for many has become nothing more than a day to spend money and eat too much. So each year at this time, we clean the house, drag home the groceries, cook ridiculous amount of food then join with family and friends in eating until our zippers practically burst.

As children, most of us were taught that the pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving as a celebration of harvest, and as we learned more about the world, we learned that nearly all cultures and religions celebrate days of thanksgiving.

These days, America’s celebration of thanksgiving has become more secular and commercial; families are less involved with agriculture and farming, which removes our interests in celebrating the harvest.

For many of us, the celebration of Thanksgiving finds meaning only when we involve ourselves in the act of giving thanks. But with the economy in the tank, wars and strife around the world, high unemployment rates, the havoc wreaked by late summer storms, the fiscal cliff looming before us and with many of us still sore from a heated election season, this year more than ever, many may be finding little reason to feel thankful.

Our family has a tradition: Before we devour the Thanksgiving meal, we go around to each person and ask them to say aloud what they are most thankful for.

We mostly hear what you would expect from our diners, usually some version of, “I am thankful for my family and friends. I am also thankful for my job and for being able to be together today with those I love most.”

But every once in a while, someone will break away from the normal Thanksgiving verbiage to share something special. Sometimes it’s saying thank-you for getting a job – “maybe it doesn’t pay as much but it helps pay the bills.” Sometimes it is someone who says thank-you for being healed of an illness, or someone who has paid off a house or a car. Or maybe someone says thank-you for a new relationship or for a marriage put back on track.

When I think of the act of thanksgiving, I am reminded of the old folks who prayed prayers in my old home-church. Those stalwart souls who stood before the congregation Sunday after Sunday to offer very similar prayers that often went something like this… “Heavenly Father, we thank you for waking us up thing morning, clothed and in our right minds. You didn’t have to do it but you did. We thank you for blessing us with a reasonable portion of health and strength. We thank you for putting clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet and food on our tables…”

These African American pilgrims found faith in thanksgiving even during days of struggle and hardship, but sometimes it seems like they should have broken out and said, “Thank you God for the new hog you gave me and for helping my son Willie get over his stomach flu. And Lord, I want to especially thank you for that nice yellow gown my wife wore to bed last night and for the bacon, eggs and grits she cooked this morning.”

So, as I remember and honor the prayers of our ancestors, I also believe we should not become repetitive in our thanksgiving. I believe God is most pleased when we recognize and acknowledge the individual and special blessings in our lives.

So when it’s my turn to give thanks at the table this year, I won’t take the easy route. Thanksgiving, for me, has already begun, as I consider the past year and remember the times God blessed me in special ways and at unexpected times. And it is in those memories that my heart becomes joyful.

So to you and yours, I wish you a safe and happy Thanksgiving. And here’s hoping you find real meaning in the act of giving thanks.

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October 5, 2015
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