Seeing the blessing

by: Leslie Bek

What is distinguishable about November? In our geographic region, it is transitional weather—a move from cool to cold. The once gloriously colored leaves lay hopelessly on the ground. Cold rains keep us from our outdoor chores. Just wait, I’m told, there will be another warm day or two. A blessing of hope when things look bleak.
When temperatures are in the 30s and the air is filled with snow flurries, I remind my friends this will seem like a heat wave come February. Be thankful you are using your rake and not the snowblower. There is a blessing in this curse. The garden has been harvested and the bed has an abandoned look. But remember, there are fruits, vegetables and grains stored inside.
What does the health promotion and health observation calendar have to say about November? The listing includes: National Alzheimer’s, Lung Cancer, Pancreatic Cancer and American Diabetes Awareness month. Two one-day declarations are Prematurity Awareness Day and the Great American Smokeout, now in its thirty-second year. November also hosts National Survivors of Suicide Awareness Day and Gasteroesophageal Reflux Awareness Week. Count your blessings.
How does November rank in a list of personal favorites? My hypothesis was that it would not be too high in a scale of one to twelve. I enlisted the assistance of my teenage friend Colin McCommons in a bit of data gathering. Colin asked more than fifty people at a church social “What is your favorite month?” and for those who ranked November as their favorite, “Why?” Results indicated ten percent voted November No. 1. Of those favoring November, eighty percent said because it was their birthday month and twenty percent indicated the celebration of Thanksgiving Day.
Historically speaking, tracing the origin of the United States Thanksgiving Day includes recognition of safe passage by early pilgrims and bountiful harvests. I’ll leave the specifics to historians, scholars and readers for further thought, discussion and debate. The following is a sampling:
In April, 1598, a Spanish colonial town near El Paso (Texas), has been said to be the site of the first Thanksgiving held in what is now known as the United States. Spaniard Don Juan de Oñate ordered his expedition party to rest and conducted a Mass in celebration of Thanksgiving, although it was not a harvest festival.
Others claim the first recorded Thanksgiving ceremony may have taken place in September 1565, when 600 Spanish settlers landed at what now is St. Augustine (Florida). At that time, they held a Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival in the New World. The celebration included a feast. Although this colony did become part of the United States, it can be classified as the first Thanksgiving, yet it was not a harvest festival.
In December, 1619, English settlers arrived in Virginia, upstream from where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established, in May 1607. The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God.
The Thanksgiving holiday I learned about in my childhood was the friendly feast between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. The origin of that story comes from a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. This symbolic event is referred to as the First Thanksgiving.
As the story goes, it was Squanto, a Patuxet Native American, who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, who taught the Pilgrims to fish and grow corn, and served as an interpreter for them. In their time, it was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance, rather a harvest festival existing in English and Wampanoag traditions alike.
In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving Day. Several additional Presidential Thanksgiving Day proclamations were made by presidents George Washington (1789, 1795); John Adams (1798-99) and James Madison (1814). President Madison’s action came in response to resolutions of Congress, at the close of the War of 1812.
In 1941, after much debate on the day of the month, it was under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration that the U.S. Congress passed a bill requiring Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November. At last, not only a proclaimed day of thanks based on a variety of causes, but a federal holiday.
November is many things. It is a time when our environment provokes us to change gears with the season. It is a time for awareness of certain disease conditions. It is a time to celebrate individual dates of birth. But more than on the fourth Thursday of the month, I believe it is a time to give thanks in whatever tradition fits.
For me, giving thanks means doing so in a prayerful way. For others, it may be reverent reflection around many things personal to them. I know when I count my blessings, the curses aren’t so big. I know when I count my blessings I find renewed strength and hope. I know when I hear the words “thank you,” I smile. Looking outside from inside always has more promise if the first things you see are the blessings.
—Leslie Bek

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