Did you make construction paper turkeys and buckled hats in elementary school? I know I did. We elementary school-ers dug our scissors into orange, red, brown, yellow to create Thanksgiving art. And then we looked at pretty framed pictures that have become American icons of gratitude.
- Freedom from Want, Four Freedoms Series – Norman Rockwell Courtesy Wikipedia
- The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914)
These pleasant scenes may trick us into thinking the world was a more peaceful place than it is now. However, the celebration has often been shadowed by discord and world war.
Conflict Coexists with Celebration
* The pilgrims fled religious persecution to find freedom in the new world. Though the scene above looks peaceful and full of plenty in 1621, many immigrants did not survive the winter.
* President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November 1863 during the dark days of the Civil War as a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
* President Franklin D. Roosevelt, just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the US into World War II, signed a congressional bill in December 26, 1941 moving the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November.
The True Story Behind Rockwell’s Painting
FDR was criticized for being too idealistic in his State of the Union address of January when he outlined his idea of the Four Freedoms: Freedom from Fear, Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, and Freedom from Want.
Two years later, The Saturday Evening Post published essays on each of FDR’s 4 freedoms, each paired with a Norman Rockwell painting (February – March 1943)
Take another look at this painting. Three generations circle the table, the all-white nuclear family considered the ideal in 1943.
As Bob Duggan points out in his article for Thanksgiving 2013, if Rockwell were painting in this decade, surely the skin color would be more racially diverse. And, instead of a gathering of biologically-linked people, family may extend to include friends and neighbors of many creeds.
What is the Young Man Asking?
See the young man looking out of the setting to you, the viewer? His smiling eyes may be asking you to join and share the bounty spread out on the table – lots of protein, plenty of vegetables, and pumpkin pie, no doubt.
But is that all he is asking? Perhaps he is inviting you as onlooker (and possible guest) to participate in another kind of freedom: to free one another from all kinds of want beyond the physical — emotional, social, and even spiritual.
No doubt you are looking forward to a Thanksgiving gathering, either at your house or somewhere else. How can you help others to have something to be thankful for, finding a way to include sharing in your practice of thanksgiving?
That’s one way to smile back at the young man at the table.
Gratitude can transform common days
into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and
change ordinary opportunities into blessings.
– William Arthur Ward
Quote contributed by my friend Jenn, a Canadian blogger, who reminded me that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October. Happy (belated) Thanksgiving greetings to all.