A Time to Give Thanks

If you asked me in 2020 what I miss the most in one word, I would say normalcy. But if you asked me what I think I need most in 2020, I would use a different word—perspective.

2020 has been—in the purest sense of the word—unprecedented! There really is nothing in my experience that I could compare it to, in terms of the unexpected, unsettled, disruptive, even scary. Now as we approach the end of this unprecedented year, we enter the holiday season in search of tradition and longing for normalcy. The season begins with what is probably my favorite holiday—Thanksgiving.

When I think of Thanksgiving, of course, I think of giving thanks. (I have a knack for the obvious!) But this holiday is also profoundly about perspective. The history of our American holiday is compelling when it comes to perspective. When we think of this holiday, we think of that first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims. That Thanksgiving was declared by the Pilgrim governor, William Bradford, calling for a three-day celebration in October 1621 specifically to return thanks to God for His providential care.

Here is the perspective part. Their three-day celebration of God’s grace came after their first year in the New World when 47 of the 102 original colonists died—and it came on the seasonal doorstep of their second cold and dark New England winter.

Abraham Lincoln declared the first official national Thanksgiving in 1863, asking Americans to observe a day of prayer and giving thanks to Almighty God. The perspective: it was in the midst of the Civil War. That November, Grant faced Lee in the trenches surrounding Petersburg, Virginia where thousands died. Earlier that same year, thousands of Americans died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. In the midst of a war that would claim over 1,000,000 lives, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday a day of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day was declared a permanent national holiday by Congress in 1941. Here’s the perspective: that fourth Thursday, November 28, was only days before America was drawn into the costliest war in human history. In spite of the dire circumstances of the early years of World War II, it seemed reasonable for the highest legislative body in the nation to declare a Day of Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving 2020, my wife Barb and I look forward to our traditions. We’ll come to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission and join with our staff and volunteers and guests to celebrate blessings and return thanks to God. And, as I always do, I’ll reflect on the history of this great American holiday. That perspective will bring me comfort, peace and courage as I reflect on 2020 and anticipate 2021.

May God bless you and yours with perspective, comfort, safety and strength this season. Happy Thanksgiving!


Patrick H. Vanderburgh, D.Min.